A Story Of The American Melting Pot
June 1946- June 1948
Why David Hirsh put so much energy into this hatred of me could probably be best explained by himself. Certainly his own affairs needed tending as much as his relations with my mother and me. For David was also meddling in my mother’s affairs as well as mine. My father disappeared after the divorce so that I have no knowledge of him.
David had friends of his insinuate themselves into my mother’s acquaintances. In the context of girl talk they managed to learn more of her affairs almost than she knew herself. Hirsh used the information to frustrate my mother’s hopes and plans. One would have thought that my mother would have known who and who not to trust. She knew everyone and was known to everyone. Still she, I won’t say babbled but, c0nfided in people who she ought to have known were not her friends.
Thus, when Mrs. Johnson informed her that she no longer wished to keep me, she, as a lady, didn’t express it that way, my mother babbled, I mean, confided to those informants that she would have to move me. It was in that manner that David Hirsh knew my destination long before I did. His heart skipped a little beat of joy; I was moving deeper into his power.
For my part, if I thought I had been unhappy before I would soon look back on what now appeared to be a Golden Age. I had fortified myself for the eventuality of leaving Mrs. Johnson’s. I had probably been working, subconsciously, to realize the fear. At least I knew it was a certainty. My attitude was shaped by the knowledge that my future had a defined if indeterminate limit. The realization added a certain bleakness to my life. It was as though living in a train depot waiting for the next train.
I was not surprised when my mother informed me that I would be moving. I hoped against hope that she would move me in with herself. This was not to be so; I had become an intolerable burden to her. Further, I was a responsibility she could avoid. Her wish was still to ‘live.’ Although I had never seen her while I was at Mrs. Johnson’s she thought that ‘living’ was incompatible with worrying about me.
I stood expectantly before her, nervously banging my left leg with my fist, a frown upon my face. When she knelt down to address me, my blood froze. An adult only reduces themselves to the the level of a child when they have the direst motives. I held my breath. My battered and withered soul fluttered in the breeze when she told me she wanted to put me in the orphanage. The Children’s Home, or foundling asylum, the Municipal Orphanage. I stared at her long moments in silence. I knew she was going to abandon me, I sensed for the most reprehensible of reasons.
I was only eight years old, I was defenseless in a hostile world. I would say that I had hit bottom but in fact I was only at the top step of a long staircase down. In truth, I do not know how I am here to tell the story. The spectre of my past haunted me in a way that the Spectre of Communism could never have haunted Europe. A future lay before as bleak as that of a survivor of the Nazi extermination camps. What little of me that remained to crumble, crumbled. I had no tear to cry; I was numb.
I intuited what lay before me. In a desperate hope to evade that reality I set two conditions before I would accept…before I would accept…as though I could change my future. I wouldn’t, I explained, if I was still in the Emerson School District or if they had a fence around the Children’s Home. She anwered both affirmatively. What did she care, she would no longer have any responsibility for me. As it turned out the Orphanage was not in the Emerson District, not that it mattered as it turned out. My mother delivered me to the front of the Children’s Home. ‘See.’ She glibly told me. ‘No fence.’ What did it matter that she lied to me? She left me in the foyer and walked out of my life. I was alone.
How can one explain life? What is it that can salvage an existence where no life is possible. Perhaps it’s just that the bars and clefs are always there; each deed or event leaves a note behind. The inevitable result is a tune which implies that life had been there. My tune was played in the lower registers; sombre notes from the bass strings of the bass fiddle. My heart continued beating, my blood continued circulating.
It is difficult to explain the effect of entering the Children’s home on me. The shifting from my mother and father’s to my grandmother’s, from there to the Smith’s, next the Johnson’s and now into the Children’s Home had destroyed any sense of stability I might have had. The Hirshes had destroyed my self-respect, which is to say murdered it, on the playground of Emerson.
Imagine an old electrical transformer by the side of the road. The wires are already frayed, some lying loose. Suddenly a tremendous lightening bolt descends from a blue sky and sends millions of volts through the transformer. The transformer explodes in a ball of fire, blown to smithereens. That’s approximately how I felt. Understated, but approximately.
In an attempt to deal with a reality that was beyond my ability to cope, I guess my old personality assumed an independent life. I became two. A real me hovered over and watched the physical me in pity and commiseration. Oddly I didn’t go insane or shut out reality, although I had ample reason. Inexperience had not yet allowed me to distinguish my condition. I descended a few steps down that long stairwell. Or perhaps it might be better said that I blasted through the basement and began to arrange my notes on the bars and clefs of a lower octave. In any case my body remained, stil functioning. My mind had to make the best of it. Yet, here I am.
There was another little boy in the office as I waited. The paperwork had been prepared in advance in my case so that my mother could just drop me off. The clerk rose from her chair and asked we two children to follow her. Turning right we walked down a short hall. I was told to wait while the clerk dropped the little boy off in the infant’s ward.
Then we continued to my destination. The building was of a standard institutional design that was used from Massachusetts to Oregon, wherever the Puritans migrated. It was of a dumbbell design. A transverse wing sat at each end of a connecting structure. The right wing had been the office and infant’s ward. The left wing which we now approached was the dining hall of unpleasant memories. We turned right. We stepped down to ground level then mounted a staircase past a half basement and the main floor, past the third floor which was the girl’s dorm, up to the fourth floor which was the boy’s dorm. This was ‘home.’ The boys dorm stretched from dumbbell to dumbbell in one long hall. The bunks lay in rows the length of the hall. In the center of the hall on the left was a cubicle for storage and a retreat for the house mothers. I was led to this cubicle.
Unknown to me, I was now in David Hirsh’s power. How delicious to have your enemy at your mercy without their knowing it. Acting on the information received from my mother’s confidants he had prepared a reception for me. Through his informers he had made friends with a house mother that he had actually attended school with although they had not known each other. David was true to Beverly and, even if not, this woman was socially beneath him, but David had favors and benefits that were in his power to bestow. The woman’s life was enhanced. It didn’t take much. The Orphanage was an employer of last resort. The people who worked there had nowhere else to go.
Thus for a smile David bent this woman to his wishes. I was reasonably well dressed when I entered. Hirsh’s intention was to make me a disreputable clown. David’s and Michael’s experiences with my parents and me had humiliated them. Funneled through their minds the experiences came out depicting he and Michael as clowns. Thus he believed that we had made clowns of he and Michael on purpose. He felt this and made us responsible. It was now possible for him to project clownship on me.
The house mother took my clothes and shoes from me, even my socks. Standing nude before her I was given a giant pair of socks full of holes. I was compelled to put these on. Standing now with only those outlandish socks on me, the house mother, following her instructions pointed at me and burst out into gales of laughter. She had been instructed to note the scene carefully so that she could report it in detail to David Hirsh.
I naturally became distressed. then I was given a pair of undershorts of which the elasticity of the waist band was spent. They wouldn’t stay up. When dressed I had to keep reaching in my pants to pull them up. This quite naturally had a comic effect as did the too large pants I was given to wear along with a ludicrous shirt. Mystified and angered I reached for my shoes which were kicked from my grasping hands.
‘No. Choose from that pile over there.’ She commanded.
First hoisting up my underpants and then hoisting up my trousers I stepped over to the pile of shoes. I examined them for a moment then said: ‘But these are all too big.’
‘Never mind.’ She said with a yawn. ‘Choose from them.’
‘Why can’t I have my own shoes back?’
‘They’re not yours anymore. Choose.’
All the shoes were far too big. I finally chose a pair of brown and white wingtips which flapped on my feet. I flopped around the cubicle a time holding up my pants. Just a I was about to complain again, she said between sobs of laughter: ‘That ought to please him.’
Unaware of who ‘he’ was I thought she was referring to me. I was not pleased. I said so and flopped out of the room to further gales of laughter.
In David Hirsh’s mind he had been twice humiliated by my parents and I had twice humiliated Michael Hirsh. This translated in David Hirsh’s mind that I had made a fool, a clown of Michael. David shared the feeling for himself. He now had me in his power to make me look like he and Michael felt. He would indulge himself to the maximum.
Alone and abandoned I was truly in the hands of my enemies. They were enemies that I knew not. Strange things would happen to me that to my mind, uninformed as to their source, were so incredible as to be unbelievable. The intent was to defame me to myself, to make me feel unworthy. Instead by some peculiar reversal I began to think of myself as one of the elect beset by demons that avoided others and for some inexplicable reason settled on me. The truth would be a long time dawning.
I arose next morning from the bunk assigned to me. Boys emerged from beds in a long row on either side of my bed, from a long row above my bed and from a long row beneath my bed. Privacy was a thing of the past. There were two toilets for eighty boys.
I sat on the edge of the bed staring at my brown and white outsized wingtips. Why did they take away my good shoes? My new reality began to dawn on me as we filed down into the dining room for breakfast. What had happened to my world? We were joined by the approximately eighty girls at the long picnic like tables and benches. My, I thought, is it going to be like this everyday? Oh yes it was but even worse.
As a new boy I was scrutinized in the incredible hubbub and noise of one hundred sixty distraught kids abusing each other at the top of their voices. Food flew everywhere. Some insane little beasts turned and bopped neighbors over the head with their spoon for no apparent reason. One boy reached across and pushed his opposites cereal out of his bowl, finding satisfaction in the ensuing fight. Every day like this?
After breakfast I was directed into a recreational room on the same ground floor. It was in the long hall connecting the two dumbbells. It was a largish room which faced the front yard. The front yard was nicely landscaped with a driveway that curved up to the front door as though to a fine estate.
In the rec room I was to become better acquainted with my fellow inmates. I had no sooner taken a seat on the window bench when a boy, tough looking, ten years old and maybe eleven, he was big, strode up to me. In the manner of the time he was dressed as a hoodlum. He must have been an enterprising sort to have obtained those clothes at the Home. I have no idea where he got them. He was also the leader of a faction or gang. He seized the opportunity to test me.
‘Hey, you, you’re new here, right?’ He parried.
‘So what?’ I replied.
‘So what. Ha. Ha.’ He was pleased at what he considered my arrogant response. Perhaps it was, I just thought he was stupid to have asked me such an obvious question. Nevertheless he thought it indicated spunk.
‘So what. Ha. Ha. Well, I’ll tell you so what. You’ve got to fight my brother Richard here. You’re both the same size so it’s a fair fight.’
‘I don’t want to fight your brother Richard.’ I replied distastefully.
‘Don’t matter. You’ve got to do it.’ He replied in a matter of fact way with no malice.
He flicked his finger at a boy standing behind him and motioned him forward.
I realized I’d have to fight this guy. I hated fighting and If I had to fight I meant to hurt. I intended to make him sorry he had inconvenienced me. This was not the usual male style turkey shoot, we were evenly matched. Unlike most fights I would witness or be involved in this one was fair.
We fell on each other with energy. I quickly realized that I had greater energy and fought at top pitch. We rolled and tumbled. I finally was getting the upper hand. Just a I was in a position to pummel Richard, his brother pulled me off saying: ‘That’s okay you proved you’re alright. You can join up with us. I’m William Derringer and this guy who beat you up is my brother Richard.’
William Derringer had pulled me off Richard just as I was about to conclusively thrash him. Now I was told by someone I didn’t know who had compelled me to fight that I had been beaten. I reallized that I would have to put Richard Derringer down constantly which meant perpetual bickering. I wanted to mind my own business. I didn’t want to be part of William Derringer’s gang. Perhaps it would have been easier to be affiliated with a gang. There was strength in numbers, but conformity to group mores was necessary. I wasn’t going to conform to anybody. I opted out. I told him what he could do with his gang.
Derringer took it as a show of spirit, dipped his finger at me and said ‘We’ll talk later.’ We never did, but he always considered me one of his gang.
They were all distraught. The whole place, inmates, staff and administration had been driven to distraction. I became distraught. Distraction became the basis of my personality. Distraction was the basis of life in the Children’s Home, it was truly the House of the Distraught. I was the only one with the courage to admit the truth. It was not that we behaved differently than other people but it was the manner with which we harassed each other. The Eloy did not do different things than we did; they harassed and worried themselves and others as constantly as we did. But their homes were refuges where they recruited their strength, regained some measure of sanity. We had no refuge. Then too they had group solidarity; they were at the top of the pecking order. Rather than retaliate against them, subordinate groups turned on lesser groups. We were the least group at the bottom of the pecking order; we could only turn on each other. There was no way the inmates could be taught group solidarity and form an army opposed to the other armies.
The boys savaged each other; the girls did too. Still the girls being girls wanted to be loved and admired. Put another way they were capaple of being given affectionate attention, lustful; the boys weren’t. Indeed the girls would go to extreme, even degrading lengths to get attention.
The girls had a separate bath to which the boys were not admitted although girls were bathed with the boys on the fourth floor. One poor dear, how I loved them, leaped naked into the window frame on the third floor and shouted to us on the playground: ‘Hey boys, look at me, I’m naked.’ Indeed she was, but too small a child to be stimulating.
I once stood and stared up the billowed legs of the shorts of a panty-less girl who sat spread legged playing jacks with her friend. A girl pointed out to her that I was staring at her. She said: ‘I don’t care whether he is staring at me so long as he pays attention to me.’ I didn’t redeem the pledge of my stare; I was too preoccupied with my own problems.
Thus we all tore at each other. I could have exerted myself and taken command of the children but I had no desire to devote my existence to their existence. To command is merely to be a slave of the slaves. I had no desire for political power. I desired repose. The other boys desired neither repose nor political power nor would they let each other alone. I was being driven mad by the constant bickering until I found a refuge which none other would enter, neither boy nor girl. I discovered the place quite by accident.
We boys were tearing at each other like rats in a cage. The dilemma was to subordinate them, which I did not want to do, a king of fools is a fool himself, or evade them. The bickering developed into a chase as I attempted to flee, not so much my tormentors, as the torment. I raced the length of the hallway on the second floor, throwing out me right arm I seized the corner and whirled around the angle of the walls, taking a few more steps I passed a doorway and threw myself into a couch in the library.
As simple a thing as it may appear, yet I was an instructor to the other boys who had not yet learned to turn a corner sharply by grasping the angle of the wall. Thus I was seated and wonderingly gazing at the shelves of books before the other boys burst into the sanctum. Their momentum carried them to the far end of the library. There, as they realized where they were, a look closely resembling fear played around their eyes. The primitive nature of man fears books and learning as an alien intrusion. Their lips silently voiced: ‘What in the hell is this?’ as the truth dawned on them. The effort, order and discipline represented by the books repelled them. Education meant change. Their mean little souls rebelled against the implied alteration of their natures.
I watched in amazement. The books were as garlic to vampires. The books stood out like so many crosses, forcing those little vampires back into the night. Turning a look of ineffable disgust on me, their minds subsided into quietude and they filed out of the library leaving me to myself. Their attitute toward me changed. I was considered an outsider among the outsiders. I took up my abode in the library.
In the years around the turn of the twentieth century the Jews requested and obtained the ambassadorship to Constantinople as their special prerogative from the United States government. From that location they could keep an eye on their settlements in Zion as well as have a listening post on Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. As it happened the library functioned in the same way for me in the Orphanage. It was located across the hall from the offices. The administrators and staff discussed all problems openly and loudly enough for me to overhear. They either were unaware that I was there or like all adults figured that I was too young to understand English. Associated with the inmates, listening in the library I became the most informed and knowledgeable person in the orphanage.
I was sitting there looking at the pictures in the Oz books, of which we had a complete set in duplicate, when the old administrator left and the new administrator arrived. John H. ‘Jack’ Darwen, his wife Angela, and their two sons, Cappy and Skippy. They arrived about two months after I had and they left four months before I did. The Old Master Fiddler had arrived.
Jack and Angela Darwen were both about thirty-six. Jack Darwen was a stocky five foot nine. He had developed an air of competence belied by the facts. Most people accepted him at face value as a competent man of authority. Even at the Children’s Home Darwen had a position of importance to a certain class of people. I say even at the Children’s Home because the Home was at the bottom of the ladder; not on an ascending but a descending scale. The place was not the first stop on the ladder up but the last stop on the ladder down. The Darwens were definitely declasse. I marveled that they did not seem to realize it.
They were the sons of English immigrants. Their main claim to fame was that their parents had arrived as small children in 1879 on the Broomielaw with Robert Louis Stevenson. Darwen’s grandparents and parents before him had been petty thieves, cheats and embezzlers. They operated on the fringe of the law, transgressing it, but always in the way a to avoid its punishment. In the English sense of the word they were fiddlers. They fiddled around the law but avoided overt criminal acts. His grandparents and parents before him had had overweening pride in their cleverness. Like carnival people they considered themselves wise and the rest of mankind stupid. Although the family had barely subsisted the reality of their situation in no way impinged upon their notion of themselves. To their minds it was all luck. The only difference between themselves and John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford or Thomas Edison was luck. Those fellows just kind of fell into it while the Darwens fell out of it.
Jack Darwen had a stroke of luck when he married his wife, Angela. She had been a couple social steps above him. Because of her he had been given a couple of chances he wouldn’t have gotten. He abused both those chances. His pilfering and manipulations of opportunities to his advantage and against the advantage of his employers had caught up with him. It took longer on his first opportunity, shorter on his second. His third opportunity, if such a job as administrator of the Children’s Home can be so described, at the Orphanage was to be the shortest.
As disreputable as Jack was Angela overcame his shortcomings with her demeanor. She was a model of the proper Englishwoman. At five nine she was as tall as her husband. At one hundred thirty pounds she was considerably more slender. Child bearing had not ruined the countour of stomach, she was still flat. She wore print dresses with fitted bodices, belted, with a straight skirt, high heels and nylons always. She was a woman who took pride in being a woman.
Her official stance was straight back, heels together, with her hands held before her hips, thumbs and forefingers together. It had the effect of forming a double delta; sort of a portal before the entry. I have always wondered what repressed sexuality it signified, or perhaps, it wasn’t repressed at all.
It was love at first sight for me. She was a marvelous woman. My ideal of womanhood is based on her. Yet, while I can understand that a whim of fate put her within the clutches of Jack Darwen, I cannot understand what fault of character kept her there.
The two sons, Cappy, four years older than I and Skippy, two years older were smaller exact images of their father; not only in appearance but walk, posture and talk. They emulated their father and he basked in their emulation. Like the Old Master Fiddler, they were incipient fiddlers. Their destiny was written on his brow.
pp. 66 and 67.
Under the control of Jack Darwen were the staff house mothers. These women were an interesting lot. The work at the Orphanage was so undesirable that in many cases the authorities had to go begging. The inmates were a tough lot of little kids. As much as we tormented each other it may be guessed how we treated the staff. There was actually a tacit agreement not to go to far for fear that the women to take care of us couldn’t be found. It is impossible for me to guess how wild and undisciplined we may have been compared to parented kids. If the turnover in house mothers was any indication we must have been terrors. They didn’t stay.
Most stayed for a bit and were never seen again; some came and went several times. Generally speaking these women were as emotionally disturbed as we were, but then I have already dubbed the Home, The House Of The Distraught.
Almost every Monday the question was would we have a new house mother or would the old ones last another week? There were two who did the longest stretches and returned several times. They were both remarkable women. Mrs. Stout was much beloved. She, as her name implied, was a large corpulent merry woman. She was always sympathetic. Being a large hearted woman her heart could only stand so much of our misery before she was overwhelmed and left again. The Orphanage was always a happier and brighter place when she was there. She was the mother of two boys of her own. Her husband was a mean hateful person who objected to her working with us pariahs although he had enough benefits from her employment.
The other woman, Mrs. Miller, was a constant source of amusement. She had bright red hair, undoubtedly dyed. She used the Home as a retreat within which she recuperated from her adventures on the outside. Properly rested and recruited, she received wages, room and board, she made another sortie out into the world.
Underneath a hardbitten exterior she had, or I thought she had, or she wanted to have but couldn’t find, a loving heart.
Her problem was men. She didn’t have any understanding of we little boys and I’m sure she had no understanding of men. I’m only guessing but I imagine that she offered her heart upon a platter, her body upon the bed (in any position), and her money in her hand. These gifts were promptly devoured and the remains discarded. She then returned to we little men of the Children’s Home.
We received the effects of her frustrations, but in such a covertly loving way that if not actually enjoyable were forgivable. Mrs. Miller left her indelible impression on me. I became constipated as a psycho-somatic reaction to my traumas. Even at that age experience had taught me to keep things to myself. Still, I complained to Mrs. Miller that I was constipated.
Now Mrs. Miller didn’t exactly keep a tight rein on her emotions. She gave free vent to her attitudes. I knew the pain of Mrs. Miller more than other people; it was writ large on her face. She now bellowed with what seemed like delight: ‘Ohh, you’re constipated are you?’ She screamed out with undisguised glee. ‘Well, I know what to do about that.’
There was something in the way she said it that made my brow furrow and made me want to retract my words; but those arrows once shot fall to earth where they may.
She actually grabbed me by the collar. Half dragged and half running I was staggered up to the dispensary on the third floor adjacent to the girl’s dorm. My squeamishness had now turned to wide open apprehension. I was half ordered to climb on the gurney and half thrown on it.
She called in three girls who she seated against the wall. I demanded that they leave but Mrs. Miller thought it better that they observe.
‘All right, girls.’ Mrs. Miller announced in stentorian tones, ‘Im going to teach you how men are going to treat you.’
There was something in her voice that made my constipation cease to bother me at that time. I rolled over to drop off the gurney. Mrs. Miller with the speed of a demon in possession grabbed me and slammed me back down on the gurney.
‘I’m going to cure you of your constipation.’ She shouted at the back of my head in frenzied tones. Before I knew it my pants were around me knees. She was waving the enema wand in crazy circles above her head.
‘All right girls, this is what men are going to do to you, so give it to them whenever you get the chance.’
I didn’t know exactly what men did to women or what bizarre sexual practices Mrs. Miller could be talked into but, boy, I didn’t want to find out either. I started yelling and I squirming but Mrs. Miller had her left hand in the small of my back leaning on me with all the strength of her frenzy. The three girls sat against the wall mouths agape, trembling at the terror of the unknown.
Mrs. Miller rearing over me like some deranged Valkyrie swooped the phallus down into my rectum emitting a blood curdling cackling laugh, screaming at the girls in pleasured tones of ecstatic vengeance: ‘That’s all that men are girls.’ The she plunged the enema wand in and out of my rectum to emphasize each word: ‘Liars (plunge), sneaks (plunge), cheats (plunge) and thieves (plunge.’ I don’t know whether those girls got the message but I sure as hell did. I’ve found that her evaluation of men (and mankind, I might add) is pretty much true too. It’s too bad Mrs. Miller couldn’t have found some other way to instill her hard won knowledge.
Having filled me with water, she told me to get on the toilet. I protested that I didn’t want to do that in front of the girls.
‘Well, then make a fool of yourself on the gurney. Stand back, girls, when he lets go it’ll be bigger than Spindletop.’ She bellowed in a most unladylike way, laughing uproariously, even demonically.
Now I was really angry but truly in a powerless postion.
‘Well, are we still constipated? Do we want more of the same? Did we like it?’ She shouted out, laughing that hoarse screaming demonic laugh.
I knew who she was and I let her know. ‘No. I don’t want you either.’ I spat out pulling up my pants and running for the door. I wonder how many times Mrs. Miller experienced the exact rejection.
The three girls sat there in a stunned silence as I whizzed past. I could hear Mrs. Miller still laughing demonically as I ran down the hall zipping up my fly. How many times had she seen men do that before.
In that brief encounter Mrs. Miller acted out her whole life history. Incapable of dealing with men she let them abuse her sensibilities. After that I felt a deep sympathy for Mrs. Miller. I didn’t like her any better but I could feel her pain. I respected her for all that. I didn’t go to her with another complaint however.
You may say: ‘How horrible. It must have had a terrible effect on you.’
It was unpleasant. I wouldn’t have volunteered but she was a woman for all that. I didn’t hate her. I didn’t feel humiliated. In its perverse way it was sex between a man and a woman. Women don’t make men homosexuals, men do.
Still, Mrs. Miller contributed to my mental turmoil. Her message that men were liars, sneaks, cheats and thieves was graven on a cliff face in my soul. Shall we say, it was a lesson. Life was full of little lessons in those days. I didn’t always learn what I was intended to but I saw and interpreted with my own unguided intelligence. In a way I was a free man.
I am sure that I had more than one bath in the two years I was incarcerated. I can only remember one. Perhaps they have all combined into one. Perhaps also I avoided them whenever I could and took sponge baths from the sink. I don’t know. I only know the one I remember was a horrible experience. It wasn’t that the house mothers didn’t try. But imagine eighty boys and from six to ten years old plus a couple dozen girls in a Saturday night bath. There were only three tubs. One stood on stilts so the small children could be washed by the house mothers without bending over. The other two were on the floor. The water was changed infrequently if at all. Boy, did I hang back, did I do my best to avoid that slippery, messy, dirty, dangerous pandemonium. What insanity! I would not stand for it.
The house mothers had to lift the smaller children above their heads to get them into the high tub; the same to get them out. Dry bodies going in; wet soapy bodies coming out. As I stood by the door watching this bedlam, a house mother hoisted a child out of the tub, lost her grip and sent him crashing to the floor on his head with a sickening thud. They dried him off and sent him on his way. Two women, eighty or more kids, how could they be held responsible?
I must have sponge bathed.
There was remarkably little or no actual brutality committed against us; at least none that I witnessed or that reached my ears. I was also outside the mainstream. Mr. Darwen did have a sadistic streak which he may have indulged without my knowledge.
I don’t know what we had done, perhaps made too much noise after lights out. Mr. Darwen decided we needed punishing. There were about twenty five of us involved. We were compelled to line up in Jack Darwen’s bedroom while he stood at the door leading into the boy’s dorm. Angela Darwen stood beside him double delta fashion. Cappy and Skippy stood opposite their father laughing and applauding at a good hit and fall. I always knew enough not to be the first in line.
What Darwen did was totally unnecessary. Jack Darwen was a fairly big man. Swinging with all his might with his open hand he hit the first boy in the back of the head. The force was great enough to lift the boy off his feet and literally knock him on his face. The next boy stepped up and was dealt with in the same way. I had been in the middle of the line but I now began edging toward the end. I thought it better to let him wear down before I stepped up.
The sound of the smack was terrifying. Oddly enough as I pushed back the other boys crowded up.
The sound of four or five howling boys was more disconcerting still. From the back of the line I could see that Darwen wasn’t going to last. I was also determined that he should stop hitting the boys in the head. I directed my efforts at Angela Darwen yelling out: ‘Not on the head, Mrs. Darwen, not on the head. Hit us on the behind.’ Jack Darwen had used up about twelve boys and was beginning to breath heavily from the exertion and excitement. It was possible that someone could get hurt.
I redoubled my efforts to persuade Mrs. Darwen. Some of the remaining boys finally caught on and started the same chant. I don’t really know whether Angela Darwen had a soft spot in her heart for me or not but it seemed like she was eyeing me while she placed her hand on Jack Darwen’s considerable bicep and urged him to not hit on the head but on the fanny.
About five or six boys before me he switched. I had solved one problem but another remained. On the other side of Jack Darwen’s bedroom door were a bunch of guys who had taken a much harder blow that I was going to take. I won’t say I was smiling inwardly. How stupid do you have to be to line up first for punishment. They deserved to be hit for stupidity alone. I didn’t like them anyway.
By comparison I knew I wasn’t going to be hurt. Besides Darwen had to bend down to hit you on the fanny. I was twenty-fifth; the guy was exhausted. First in line for punishment! I was actually laughing inside. Nevertheless I was now facing a hostile crowd who had taken a harder hit than me. I prepared a shout of pain and threw myself down in a prat fall. I don’t know why I tried to gratify those guys by complaining about how much it hurt. They quite correctly didn’t believe me. Darwen shut the door into this bedroom. A bunch of the inmates gathered around me. I didn’t see who hit me but I took a punch in the solar plexus that knocked the wind out of me. I lay gasping on the floor which satisified them. Stupid boys. A new round of torment began. I got them back too. When will they ever learn.
That was the first indication I had of Jack Warden’s perfidy. I would next witness his petty criminal mind in the library. I sat in the library nearly every day. The books all came from donations. Members of the community were fairly generous to the Orphanage. The library was fairly large, I would guess fifteen by thirty feet. Except for the window in the front wall facing the street the walls were lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. Thus several thousand volumes were all children’s and juvenile books. Quite a substantial library of its kind. Thus as an orphan I, as it were, owned the most extensive collection of children’s literature in the city, perhaps the State. I doubt that even the public library had as extensive a collection. these books were all literary, no picture books.
Everything of importance was there, much of it in first editions. As I mentioned two complete Oz collections, Dr. Dolittle, Raggedy And and Andy, the complete Hardy Boys, Robert Stevenson. And I was the only one who read any of it, ever. I spend hours reading spines, memorizing titles and authors. In an odd perversion of reality I had greater opportunity for and acquired a greater knowledge than the parented kids. They, in their turn, with all their advantages never realized that I had advantages so far beyond their resources as to reverse roles and leave them the impoverished ones. Likewise we at the Home were treated to more entertainment from circuses to ballets than even the richest kids saw. Strange but true. Life is full of paradoxes.
It was thus I acquired an extensive knowledge of literature. I spent several weeks doing nothing but examining the spines of the volumes. Quite naturally I was, I won’t say spied on, but observed by Darwen and the office staff. My presence in the library was so singular that it aroused their curiosity. They, wisely I think, declined to discuss it with me. They of course speculated on what I was doing as they never saw me reading the books. They did voice their speculations loudly enough for me to overhear and resent them. I didn’t have to do things as they would have.
Having created a house of mystery in my mind, I began to examine the volumes individually; that is, I found books with illustrations and looked at the pictures and turned the pages. In ths manner I found the virtues of the Oz series. I was specially entranced by the Flying Horse of Oz.
I was in the process of actually reading this volume, with especial and lingering interest devoted to the pictures, when Jack Darwen and a strange fellow burst into my sanctuary. Jack Darwen had a particularly vulgar persona that clashed with my library. The Home had received several large accessions of books in the previous weeks that left the library bulging; in fact, the books were still in boxes on the floor. This fact probably gave the old Master Fiddler the idea that there was ‘gold’ in that thar library.
He had already developed into an old clothes dealer. Clothing was donated to the Home in a steadier stream than books. Now this clothing was not necessarity cheap clothing. The lesser affluent do not give away clothing. They wear it out. Mostly the affluent donate clothing. They often times spend a great deal on their offspring. Thus the cream of the good quality clothing was skimmed off by the Old Master Fiddler to augment his meager, though still undeserved, income. Mrs. Stout and the other house mothers skimmed the next best. We inmates were left with the skimmed milk, all the cream was gone.
The Old Master Fiddler, seeing the boxes of books sitting on the floor, suddenly realized that they were a potential source of profit. The gentleman with him was a used book dealer who had found the mother lode. Used book dealers only want the cream. By some mysterious process not connected with knowledge I had alread divined the best books. The book dealer had discovered that the same books were desirable from his catalogues. These were my books; I didn’t mind when the first batch left including one of the sets of the Oz books, there were still plenty left.
For the first two or three raids the book dealer was cautious, not completely trusting the Old Master Fiddler. Then he became bold. I noticed with alarm that some of the best books, ones that I intended to read, began to disappear. I remonstrated with The Fiddler, thinking perhaps, knowing that in his mind he didn’t think I knew which were the good books, not to take them. He looked at me incredulously, fearing possible retribution if I should somehow tell; he slacked off for a little.
Then, what to my wondering eyes should happen but these two scurvy fellows, Darwen and the book dealer, snatched up the remaining set of Oz books. I protested. They persisted. I requested that at least they leave the Flying Horse Of oz. the Fiddler made some uncomplimentary remarks and snatched the Flying Horse out of my hands thrusting it into the box. He shouldn’t have done that. He gave me another incredulous look, muttered something I didn’t quite catch and continued in his robbery of my books. He shouldn’t have done that. He may have thought I was harmless and inconsequential but if he had been attentive while attending church he would have known that God performs his acts in mysterious ways and chooses vessels in a strange manner.
The library was a desert with the good books gone.
The Children’s Home was not a pleasant place, still, whoever worried about us continually sought ways and means to entertain us. We had magic shows; a child prodigy of the boogie woogie piano, Sugar Chile Robinson, gave us a command performance. God only knows what training they gave him to keep him smiling like that. I did notice however that his vision didn’t get any further than the end of his nose.
There was a Catholic orphanage a few blocks down Nelson St. The Catholics also sought diversion for their inmates. One Saturday we were taken down there to see some wonder horse who had performed miracles in the Pacific War in Borneo or some such jungle location. I never understood what this horse was doing in the Pacific or why. A technicolor movie was made about the horse’s exploits which I saw but I still didn’t understand.
The horse was brought to the Catholic Orphanage and performed his stunts in their playground. I cared little about the stupid horse, but I was interested in the contrast between the Municipal Orphanage and the Catholic Home. Ours was a much freer existence. We went to the public school and had only a chain link fence around the playgrund. We were also free to come and go more or less as we pleased.
The Catholic orphans in contrast were virtual prisoners. They were never allowed outside the walls. They received their school intstruction from Nuns. Rather than a chain link frence, a high, perhaps ten foot brick wall, surmounted by broken glass, surrounded their playground. The playground itself was concrete with a big steel grate for a drain in the middle. The Nuns and Priests stood along the walls with admonitory expressions; just like it was possible to do something.
We were wild and free looking while the Catholic inmates were forlorn and oppressed looking. My own mental distress, which I took seriously, appeared magnified in the faces of the Catholics.
I filed out thoughtfully after the wonder horse had clopped out his age with his hoof for the last time. The wonder horse began our relationship with the Catholic orphanage. The Catholics rented ‘wholesome’ movies, an oxymoron if their ever was one, to show the inmates. We would come back at their invitation to sit through them.
Among us was a boy called Bertie Hambaugh. Oddly enough there were few of us who were genuine orphans. A great many had one parent and many had two parents. Bertie had both. They apparently were not of this world. Bertie was a reprehensible person. Even at that age I knew he was not of a sound mind. I have called the Children’s Home the House Of The Distraught, Bertie was crazy. He was dishonest, a liar, a cheat, a thief. He played with matches. None of that made him a bad guy. He had every reason to turn sour.
However his parents may have justified themselves they placed him first in the Catholic home with its intramural schooling, then in the Municipal Orphanage with its public schooling, bact to the Catholic home and then back to us, then his parents took him to their house and another school. All this movement was done in one year. Horror comes in many forms; children cannot survive such treatment.
Bertie had a special horror of the Catholic home. The place was a real concentration camp. The only difference between it and Dachau was that the inmates weren’t gassed. Bertie had every reason to loath it. Nevertheless circumstances beyond his control had turned Bertie Hambaugh into a loathsome person. I was glad to see him go the last time and I hoped he would not come back.
A few years later after I had been farmed out to the Wardens I read in the paper of a terrible fire. A boy had locked all the doors, murdered his parents and set fire to the house with he and his two siblings in it. That boy was Bertie Hambaugh. Too bad he had to kill himself. When I pointed out the story to the Wardens they gave me a long lingering look that I couldn’t understand.
Bertie was with the Catholics when we were gathered up, marched out to Nelson St. and began the trek to the Catholic home to see ‘Miracle On Forty-Second Street’, a terrifically ‘uplifting’ if stupid movie. The Catholic kids were subjected to such ‘entertainment’ remorselessly.
We marched along, in good order actually strung out for a block and a half. I naturally brought up the rear roaming up and down the flanks. We filed into the tomb. The Catholics apparently tried to save money on electricity for the place was ill lighted. We strung out up to the third floor where the room they used as a theatre was. We sat under the stern and watchful eyes of the Priest and Nuns who took their place along the walls.
Bertie latched onto me and started excitedly explaining how things were done there. He was under the jurisdiction of the Nuns, so they sat him down somewhere else in the room to silence him. He was in high excitement and kept bobbing up and down trying to get some message to me. He was finally removed.
I was standing and pacing the back of the room disgusted with the movie. A Priest tapped me hard on the shoulder blade. It hurt, I turned in anger. With a stolid face he disdainfully flicked a finger at me indicating I should sit down. I didn’t like his style and was about to tell him so when one of the house mothers stepped over and explained as politely as she could. I sat down.
The ordeal of the movie was over. I hung back and tried to blend into the woodwork. I was successful. Everyone was gone. I roamed the halls alone. Unlike our place that was fairly open, this place was a succession of high and closed doors. Our place was dismal, this place was grim.
One of the doors opened to reveal a bunch of kids standing in it. They frantically waved me over. I stepped over.
‘Hey, come in here with us. We’re doing it.’ They meant having sex.
‘They torment us but we get back at them by doing it.’
Unable to retaliate they sought vengeance by hurting themselves, something like the boy who goes to prison to teach everyone a lesson. I felt commiseration for them. I might have joined them but I feared I might not be able to get out again. Also a Nun spotted me and descended on me like the woman with a stick in her hand on the label of Old Dutch Cleanser.
I could stand up to her and I did. I’m sure it was her intent to thrash me.
‘What are doing out of your room, you little demon.’
I was surprised she didn’t recognize me as not being one of her charges.
‘You can’t touch me!’ I bellowed, hoping to avenge the inmates in some little way. ‘I don’t live here, I live at the Municipal Orphanage.’
‘Well then you get out of here right now or I’ll thrash you anyway. You children there, get back in your room and close that door.’
I raced down the stairs and out into the dark street. I had been given food for thought as I walked up Nelson to the Home. I appreciated the freedom to be by myself on my own.
I was also given food for thought one day when a couple who wished to adopt a child came to examine the candidates. It was the custom to send the prospective adoptees into the playground where as they milled around the adopters could examine them. Certainly from the adopters point of view the precedure had relevance. The adopter could observe the children’s form and motion, posture and demeanor, which believe me are important indicators of the child’s state of mind.
The administrators sent we orphans out into the yard. Then the house mother told me to go out and join them. I looked at her blankly. I hadn’t seen my mother since my admission but then I had never seen her at the Johnson’s, and not more than once or twice at the Smith’s. I feared that she had abandoned me but it wasn’t clear to me that she had. I protested that I wasn’t an orphan, that I had a mother. The house mother gently insisted, pushed me out the door.
Once outside I intruded into the formation of orphans waiting with countenances reflecting hope and terror. There were about thirty of us out there. As I walked into their midst the amorphous mass began some mysterious process of shifting and slid about to assume a new order which allowed for me. I didn’t know why I was there so I stood bold and fearless. The others milled and wheeled nervously.
I had been out there some few minutes, the others longer, when the adopting couple arrived. The woman was quite clearly frantic to have a child. The man clearly showed his distaste and contempt for us. It was quite obvious that the woman had begged and pleaded with him to allow her to adopt. His arrogant attitude clearly showed his intention to obstruct her efforts. I hated him instantly and with good reason.
I was at that time a platinum blond. I was however only several months from a very rapid change to brown. The woman too was blond. She was a nice looking woman, well dressed in a conservative way. Her husband wore a grey plaid suit, he was carrying the jacket. They were obviously affluent and on the way up. Still the woman’s husband had an arrogant unintellectual look. Something told me I had a better library in my head than they had in their house.
In order for them to have made an intelligent decision they would have had to have mixed with us for hours and interviewed their choices extensively. They, or rather, she expected to walk into the yard and lead a child out like a puppy.
In her nervous excitement she rushed out into our midst. I don’t know whether it was prearranged or whether she was merely attracted to the color of my hair and my bold, relaxed stance. She would have taken me on the spot. I might have gone with her. As she bent down to talk to me I spied the house mothers watching expectantly from the doors and windows. Over her shoulder I spied her husband who came up a few paces behind her. His revulsion at the prospect of introducing me, or rather, any of us, into his household molded his features and was reflected in his apprehensive stance. I might enter his household but it was clear that the man would torment me to death. There was an unwarranted air of superiority about the man that revolted me. One could see that he didn’t have anything going for him but his clothes. I had already made my decision about him.
His wife was kneeling before me and saying: ‘Would you like to go home with me and be my little boy?’ My eye was fixed on her husband. She looked over her shoulder at him then turned back to me. ‘Hmm. Would you like to be my little boy?’
It was apparent to me then, if not transparently clear, that I had been irrevocably abandoned. I had a choice to go with this woman and take a chance on her husband and probably have a comfortable childhood, or tolerate my current wretched existence. I shot another penetrating glance at him and saw reluctance if not rejection in his eyes. There was no room in his life for another man’s child.
I looked at her and said coldly: ‘I can’t. I already have a mother.’ The woman burst into tears and rushed from the yard followed by her husband who cast what I can only describe as a grateful look over his shoulder at me. I returned his clance with a contemptuous hateful glare. I knew I was a better man than he. My experience had placed me years beyond him in perceptive abilities. He wouldn’t have been able to keep up with me.
The others stared in disbelief. I had rejected their dream, their fantasy. Their crushed hopes turned into a lingering resentment against me. Still, I had rather be crushed, abandoned and forgotten than submit to that man’s cold tolerance. Orphans have their own gods.
As gods go, the repirth of the Savior gave the Old Master Fiddler an opportunity to demonstrate his skill. I was sitting in my library as Easter was coming around looking at the spot where the Flying Horse of Oz had been, when I overheard a conversation between Jack Darwen and his two apprentice fiddlers, Cappy and Skippy. Cappy and Skippy- here was an incompetent, inept man in his last job before falling out of society into a quasi-criminal existence and he calls his kids Captain and Skipper. What fantasy, what delusion. He had nothing to teach them that would make them leaders. He had no example to set them that would put them on the path to success. As I listened he was telling them how to take advantage of the unfortunate wretched inmates of the Orphanage. Play a refrain of that lugubrious ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’ for him.
A gala Easter egg hunt and festive Easter dinner had been planned for us. The Easter egg hunt was to be held in the front yard of the Home which was capacious and nicely landscaped. Cappy and Skippy should not even have been allowed to participate. They weren’t even inmates and besides Cappy was thirteen and Skippy eleven. Inmates were farmed out to foster homes at ten. The reason was that the fear of boys at puberty or near puberty mixing with six, seven and eight year olds would lead to fagging and homosexuality. In those day homosexuality was not attributed to chemical changes in the brain or genetics but to the sex drive. Of course puberty might be accompanied with chemical changes in the brain but homosexuality is probably more directly related to sex drive coupled with opportunity.
But Cappy and Skippy were older than any of us. Guys like Jack Darwen believe that they are smarter and more clever than anyone else in the world. Their arrogance is matched only by their contempt for their fellows. The Old Master Fiddler had been twice fired for dishonesty. I would get him again soon. But his protective denial refused to let him see that he had failed precisely because his lack of cleverness had been so obvious. The world was smarter than he. Still he could point to the books and clothing he was pilfering and nobody knew. No one but the whole children’s home. Now he was instructing his boys how to fiddle us orphans.
He was explaining to them very carefully where the eggs were to be placed. I listened attentively. He also explained to them how many eggs he believed that would be necessary for them to take first and second place. There were to be three prize Easter baskets for the top three finishers. Those baskets turned out to be mighty fine prizes by our, or any other, standard. When they had the requisite number of eggs they were to stop. Just as this hunt was rigged so are all hunts, drawings and lotteries. The winners are already determined. I never willingly participated in such games gain.
I had, as Bessie Smith said, my own. None of the others at the Home did. They needed things like the Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately, Jack Darwen had an element of truth in his uncharitable assessment of mankind, these kids were sheep waiting to be fleeced. A wise shepherd cares for his flock; the Old Master Fiddler was not a wise shepherd and that is why he was always caught with the fleece in his hand.
Easter morning broke wet and cloudy. This did not dampen the ardor of the inmates. They were eager and ready. I had the egg locations memorized too and I was prepared to beat out Cappy and Skippy when what do you suppose the Old Master Fiddler did? He gave Cappy and Skippy a head start. I gritted my teeth. Cappy and Skippy walked up to where the two largest caches were placed with an air of self-assurance that betrayed their game. Cappy was much bigger than the rest of us; for our purposes he was almost an adult. He strolled over reached down looking back at his father who snorted with pleasure, gave him a wink and said: ‘Well, look what I found.’ He was just one lucky guy.
It was only then that we inmates were released. I ran to two of the other locations Darwen had named and retrieved nine eggs. I found four more. I knew that I was probably therefore in third place. I slowed my search and looked over at the Darwens. They were looking on with vast amusement. Their expression said: ‘Look at the little fools scramble and we’ve already won.’
Disgust welled up in me. I too knew contempt. I walked up to Cappy and offered him an egg. ‘Here Cappy, do you need another egg?’ I said as sarcastically as possible. Secure in his self-conceit Cappy failed to note the sarcasm. ‘Sure, Gresham, thanks.’ He actually took it. As he cracked it to eat he pursed his lips and gave a quizzical look at this father as if to say: ‘We’re so smart and they’re so simple. They deserve to be cheated, don’t you think? Ha. Ha.’
His father gave him a wrinkled smile, shrugged and said softly: ‘Cattle fit only to be led to the slaughter.’
With my egg Cappy still finished first and without it I still finished third. But, I said to myself, I still should have finished first.
The Easter baskets for first and second places were really magnificent. I couldn’t reconcile myself to seeing both of them going into the Darwen’s quarters. Angry as I had ever been I began to agitate among the inmates. I wanted to make some kind of protest. But they were only sheep waiting to be sheared, cattle fit only to be led to the slaughter. I had set myself an impossible task, they acquiesced in the their fate. Well they knew who they were, not only at the Orphanage but at Longfellow School.
I had two lives as did all we inmates. We had our little micro society of the Children’s Home and we mingled with the outside world, the world of the parented children at Longfellow, for the Home was in the Longfellow district. Longfellow district was adjacent to the Emerson District. Longfellow was next on the South, thus the families of the Hirshes and Websters with their allies straddled the lines of the two districts. I was vulnerable to David Hirsh both at the Home and Longfellow although Hirsh’s action must necessarily be vicariously enjoyed as neither he nor Michael could be present at either the Home or the School.
My entrance into the Orphanage had not only placed me completely in Hirsh’s power but advantageously to his interest dropped me into the lowest social stratum in society. American society is organized on racial lines rather than class lines. The results are the same. Thus all Whites are advantaged and all Negroes, for instance, are disadvantaged, regardless of actual circumstances. All Jews are persecuted and all gois are persecutors regardless of actualities. If we had been Blacks, Jewish, Japanese or whatever we could have appealed to the benevolence of the whole community for redress as a political entity. The Blacks or Jews or Japanese would have put up a universal cry of injustice and sympathetic members of the unaffected groups would have rallied to their support.
Such was not the case with us, we were White Judaeo-Christians within our own unsympathetic society. We were unprotected, outside the law. Our society could do what they would to us and we had no appeal, or anyone to appeal for us. Within the classroom we were discriminated against as rigorously if not more so than the Blacks, who were just above us on the social scale.
At Emerson the social gradation had been Eloy and Morlocks- betters and inferiors. At Longfellow the Eloy and Morlocks still existed but we of the Children’s Home became a class of pariahs- White Niggers. Our situation was somewhat analogous here in free America to the Jews of Nazi Germany. This is no joke nor an exaggeration as my story will show.
Like the Blacks we were not allowed to excel academically. Unlike the Jews we had no social structure to retreat into that would honor our abilities and push us in the larger society. We were alone and we ourselves eschewed solidarity. Like Blacks they would say that we were naturally intellectually inferior. They said so for the same reason, to allow free play would have meant that some Blacks and some of us would have surpassed their own giving the lie to their notion. For either us or Blacks to excel over them would disprove their claim to superiority. Thus a species of apartheid was practiced on both ourselves and Blacks. This was in America the land of equality. The land of moral superiority over South Africa or the old Soviet Union.
During the times, during the forties and later, since the introduction of Blacks into the United States, there would be those who argued that Blacks did not have the mental capacity to excel intellectually. Their studies can be based on whatever they choose; the truth is that Blacks were not allowed to excel. They were not only denied the opportunity but those who persisted against the longest of odds were brutally beaten back. If they persisted further they might probably be killed outright- lynched. In a word, they were driven down so hard that their wills were broken. Hope was denied them. Their eyes glazed over and they just kept shufflin’ along.
Shut up with their fellows in their segregated neighborhoods they developed their own mores, which, since they were denied White means and methods, became very individualistic, even outre. These ways were then ascribed to nature and used to ridicule them. Their intelligence was depicted as ludicrous. They were called Shine and Darky. Laughed at and ridiculed in schools, physically denied opportunity, let alone equality, there was no use trying. What was the use?
Unable to break the White resistance to their pleas, they accepted their fate, even accepted inferiority, without further murmur. So the Black nigger, the jigaboo, was created by American Biblical society.
The same process was turned on we of the Children’s Home.
The parented children refused to sit with us. They invariably turned their backs to us, spoke to us over their shoulders. We were constantly harassed and attacked physically. Each day was a fight. It was imperative that we be placed lower than them. When divisions were made we were invariably in the second or lowest section. To give the appearance of fairness, as the lawyers say, one of our members mgiht be placed in the first reading or arithmetic section, invariably a girl, but the rest of us had no hope of advancement whether we excelled or not. Thus we had to rise above the worst rather than be developed by the best. The parented children were in the first section whether they deserved it or not.
At practice the parented kids were allowed to taunt us and harass us as we attempted the assignments. We were made to feel inferior in every way; not least in our attire. There was no rational excuse for our being dressed so badly. The clothing donated to the Orphanage was of good if not superior quality. The clothes we wore had actually cost more than many of the parented classmates. True, house mothers like Mrs. Stout took some of the best to their children and it’s true that the Old Master Fiddler disposed of the very best for his profit, but our clothes could have fit, they could have been repaired, they could have matched.
The real reason was that we had to appear ludicrous and hence inferior. Darwen, that small minded petty criminal ass insisted that we appear inferior to his own. The parents insisted that we appear inferior to our classmates. The community desired a group at which they could smile, shake their heads in disbelief and feel superior. Just as Blacks were thought to be naturally inferior so were we White Niggers. We should therefore wear badges of inferiority to avoid confusion with their own. Just as the Nazis were making Jews assume the Yellow Star of David to identify them, so we were dressed like clowns.
The Blacks had their skin to separate them, we were given ill fitting bizarre clothing. The boys were just returning after having defeated intolerance over seas, or so we were told.
The gulf between we two groups must have been enormous. I know we looked different but the neurotic distortion of reality overruled for a time my conscious grasp of the facts. Our walk, our talk, our bearing, our demeanor displayed the difference.
David Hirsh, while keeping an eye on me, yes to took time from work to spy on me, as I and my fellows tramped the twelve blocks to school, appreciated the change in my status. Word was passed to the Eloy of Longfellow and I was given special ostracization and harassment.
Hirsh also pursued me at the Orphanage as he racked his brains to find ways to discomfort me. I was already walking around like a clown at his behest but gratification was not enough for him he wanted to injure me.
He was a man prolific in devious ideas. One day, or rather night, a couple of older boys, fifteen or sixteen, were scheduled to stay overnight. The story was that they were in between foster homes and needed a place to stay for the night. They were neither in between foster homes or jobs, they were thugs. I doubt they had been inside a school for years. We were scruffy but these guys were as coarse and crude as inner city dropouts.
I had heard they were in the Home but I had neither seen them or had a desire to. Lights had been turned out and we were all in bed when some kid a year younger than me crawled over to my bunk and asked me to into the bathroom with him. I was incredulous. Why? He went on about how these two guys were there and what terrific guys they were. He insisted and kept on insisting. Finally to shut him up I said I would go and take a look at them.
The door to the bathroom was kept closed but the lights were always left on. We stepped inside and here were these two incredible hoodlums with evil shining in their eyes. They were waiting for me. Evil people must wait a long time for a good person to go bad on his own, perhaps forever. It’s nearly always necessary to give a good person a nudge, to entrap them if you can. I think it is possible to cheat an honest man but a pure heart cannot be corrupted.
I was unaware of homosexuality so I was not clear about their purpose. They were there to penetrate me. Rape was out of the question as my shouts would surely be heard. These ugly guys were going to attempt seduction. the conversation developed into broad hints of penetration which passed me by. My little cicerone volunteered the suggestion that they show me their way of wiping one’s behind. This technique consisted of pushing your middle finger through a piece of toilet paper and inserting the finger in the rectum.
‘Come on over here and I’ll show you.’ Said one of the cruds.
We had been making a fair amount of noise. Who should be on duty that night but Mrs. Miller. I have no idea how many people were in on this or whether one of my peers meant to do me a disservice by informing on me, who knows, maybe it was just a friend trying to help me.
Just as I was about to direct a heated retort at the scum the door burst open with a rampant Mrs. Miller illumined in the door way.
‘You boys get out of there.’ She bellowed. She had a wide leather belt in her hand with the added refinement of the buckle at the loose end. Mrs. Miller knew how to get petty vengeance on men, she was always ready. My cicerone bolted. Some unlucky kid had a bed right in front of the door. To avoid being smacked it was necessary to jump on him in his bed on the way out. My cicerone timed it perfectly leaping off the unsuspecing boy as the belt buckle whizzed harmlessly behind him.
‘Come on out of there you miserable boys. I’m not going to have any of that going on while I’m responsible whether I lose my job or not.’
End of Clip 2, go to Clip 3