Jack Canon's American Destiny

Friday, June 7, 2013

Violent Season by Maj. Ray Gleason Ph.D. (Excerpt)

Chapter Two: “Soldiers of Christ”

Now she was confused. Why would anyone call her son a Jew. Certainly, Mrs. Simon knew what Jews were. When she was growing up, they lived mostly around Hester Street. Her people never had any problems with Jews, unlike those damned Irish who were always drunk and always starting fights. The Jews kept to their neighborhood, the Sicilians kept to theirs. She knew the priests said that all the Jews were going to hell for killing Jesus. But, that was priest business, not street business. Besides, her neighbor on the first floor, Mrs. Goldstein, was Jewish and such a nice lady, always kind to little Joey. Mrs. Simon could not understand why God would want to send such a nice lady to hell. But, that was priest business. On the street, there were Jewish neighborhoods and Sicilians neighborhoods. There was Jewish business and there was Sicilian business. They never mixed. Typical of America. One country, many neighborhoods. Everybody kept to themselves, or there was trouble.

“Why’d this boy call you a Jew?” Mrs. Simon asked her oldest son.

“I don’t know, Mama, I don’t know! They do it all the time,” Joey sniffled.

Now Mrs. Simon knew she had a problem on her hands. She just wasn’t sure what. “Who is this kid?” she demanded.

“Just a kid, Mama, just a kid,” little Joey answered.

Good, Angelina Madelena Giudice of Delancey Street thought, he’s not an informatore. “So, why’re you coming home with this?” she demanded.

“He’s big, Mama! He could beat me up,” Joey sobbed!

Madonn’, thought Angelina Madelena, he’s a punk, un vigliacco!

She remembered, once in the Transfiguration school yard, when she was in the fourth grade, one of the eighth-grade girls, who was at least twice her size, had called her Angelina la Bambina, Angelina the Baby, for no better reason than to impress her girlfriends. The bigger girl got to say this only once before Angelina Madelena had her on the ground and was pummeling some sense into her. When the nun broke it up, she asked both girls who started it. Neither girl would break the school yard code; neither would speak. So, since Angelina Madelena seemed to be the aggressor, she was frog-marched into the school and given a few strokes with a leather belt. But, Angelina Madelena took her beating without making a sound. She knew even the nun respected her for not snitching, for standing up for herself and for taking her beating without so much as a whimper.

This was the respect, il rispetto, that every kid in the school yard had to earn and had to have. Without respect, you were nothing! So, Angelina kept her mouth shut, took her beating and got respect for it. That’s the way things worked in the school yard and in the neighborhood.

“Did anyone else hear him say this thing to you?” she quizzed her son.

“All the kids were there! They laughed when he said it!” Joey sobbed.

“So, you let this… this… punk say this thing to you in front of the whole neighborhood! And then you ran away crying?” exclaimed Mrs. Simon.

Without thinking, she grabbed her cigarette from the ash tray hidden behind the bread box on top of the ice box and took a deep drag. Joey was amazed. His Mama was smoking right in front of him. He knew she smoked, but never right out in the open like this!

She bent down into his face and lowered her voice so Papa Joe, her father-in-law, wouldn’t hear her, “Se non fate qualcosa, avete perso il vostro onore. Nessuno potrà mai rispettare.”[2]

Joey now knew he was doomed! He should have thought this through before getting his Sicilian mother involved in a school yard fight. Not only was she standing right in front of him smoking a cigarette, but she was talking to him in Italian, using the magic words onore and rispettare. Using Italian in his family was like the priests using Latin in the mass. It was a sacred, magical and binding language. The language of the old country. The voice of their ancestors. The sound of obligato. But onore! Joey wasn’t absolutely sure what that entailed, but he knew that when his Sicilian grandfather and uncles used the word, it was in a hushed voice, accompanied by solemn nods, like praying in the church before God.

Joey was now bound by onore, the Italian language, and his mother’s cigarette to go back to that school and kick Nugy O’Reilly’s ass or die in the attempt.

Even at that young age Joey was sensible and had no inclinations to suicide. He left the apartment, apparently on a mission to regain his onore, but instead hid out for a couple of hours down the block at Mickey Dwyer’s, his best friend’s, apartment. Later, on his way back home, he scraped his knuckles on the side of a building and told his Mama that he had done the deed.

Her terse response, “Good! Serves the punk right! Now wash your hands for dinner! You got blood.”

Initially, Joey’s only viable strategy for dealing with the “Joey the Jew” problem, was to ignore it. Never respond. Never let them know they’re getting to you. Hopefully they’ll get bored with it and go find a new victim. Unfortunately for Joey, having a “Jew” in the parish was too much a novelty to be ignored or forgotten. Soon, the problem leaked from the school yard and permeated the neighborhood. Joey was safe on his own block on Crescent Street where he and Mickey lived. But, anytime he had to leave that area of sanctuary, going to the deli to buy bread and milk for his Mama, or going to the candy store to get his Papa’s newspapers and cigarettes, or walking to school, he was “Joey the Jew” to any kid who could make it stick.

This continued for some time with varying degrees of intensity and viciousness. Some kids actually believed Joey was Jewish. What a Jewish kid was doing attending a Catholic school in Astoria never seemed to cross their minds. But, Our Lady of Lourdes school was not known for the scholarship of its charges.

In the fifth grade, two things happened to Joey the Third. The first, he had a growing spurt and, almost overnight, the skinny little runt that Mickey Dwyer had known since the first grade, was over five feet tall and a good twenty pounds heavier. Second, Joey the Third decided that he wasn’t going to put up with this shit anymore. His new policy about the “Joey the Jew” issue was, if any kid said it to him—no matter how big, how tough, how well connected around the neighborhood—he would punch him in the face.

The implementation of this new policy was neither smooth nor flawless.

At first, Joey had to put up with a fair share of ass-kickings from the bigger kids. And, Mickey Dwyer, as Joey’s best friend, had to back his play. So he suffered his fair share of damage too. But, Joey declared he would rather take a beating than have to put up with this shit any more.

Joey soon noticed that despite losing a lot of his “Joey the Jew” fights, the harassment actually lessoned and finally stopped, as the word went around the parish that, if you opened your mouth to this guy, he was going to come at you. You might beat him, but you were going to know you were in a fight! So, as is the eternal code of bullies, they went to find easier victims.

So ended the era of “Joey the Jew.”

At least for the most part. Joey would tolerate some teasing from the kids he trusted, and Mick Dwyer always had his back in the bad old days.

So, when Joey showed up for assembly that Sunday morning, Mick greeted him saying, “Joey! What are you doing here? I didn’t know Jews had to go to mass!”

Joey just smiled and said, “Keep it down, Mick! I’m undercover. I heard at the synagogue that Catholic girls are easy.”


THE VIOLENT SEASON is an epic, expansive collection of heroic short stories centered on the gripping experiences of three young men and their families during the Vietnam War. The book presents a ‘coming-of-age’ narrative that begins in the lush river valleys of upstate New York and on the streets of New York City and provides an insightful perspective of youth and innocence plunged into the crucible of war.

As well, it transcends the “good guys, bad guys” portrayal of human conflict by presenting its readers with a depiction of good people, Americans and Vietnamese, caught up in unthinkably grim and difficult circumstances. THE VIOLENT SEASON celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to triumph over the horror and tragedy of war.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Literary / Historical Fiction

Rating – PG13

More details about the author & the book

Connect with Raymond Gleason on Facebook & Twitter & Linked In


Post a Comment