Friday, April 29, 2011

Killer Poet

I'm including some links about one Norman Porter, a down-on-his-luck Yankee from Woburn, Mass. who allegedly murdered a Saugus clothing store clerk in 1960, and a Cambridge jail attendant in 1961. He spent quite some time in prison after that, finally escaping from Walpole in 1985 and fleeing to Chicago. He then spent two decades in the Windy City, battling demon rum, doing odd jobs, living on the streets - and eventually gathering a bit of wind himself. He became a poet and social activist, getting involved with his local Unitarian church and becoming something of a grassroots litterateur. Ironically, the taste of renown he got from his poetry ended up getting him caught. Living under the name J.J. Jameson, he was named "Poet of the Month" by a Chicago poetry website in March 2005. He gave "innumerable readings", appeared as a guest on local radio and cable TV shows, and even had his picture and his bogus bio unleashed on the internet. He also retained something of the bad boy, getting himself arrested a few times in his adopted city. His fingerprints as one "Jacob A. Jameson" from a Chicago arrest in 1993 sat in the same database with those of his former self, Norman Porter, for years before anyone noticed. Twelve years had elapsed before the FBI made the connection, by which time he'd already become somewhat famous. The FBI were able to find him through "the simple act of entering his name into an online search engine", and closing in on him after that was easy. No longer a criminal, Porter is a published poet with at least one book under his belt, but he was 65 in 2005 and - so far as I know - has been in jail ever since. Too bad, as it appears he was quite the escape artist in his younger days, having made "about 18" jail breaks before he buckled down for his first long stay, earning a GED and the equivalent of an English degree from Boston University while in the joint. (Even Francois Villon would need to rack up those Creative Writing credits, I guess, before he started putting pen to parchment nowadays.)

Review of documentary "Killer Poet" (Boston Globe)
Article from Boston Globe
Hiding Between The Lines (Chicago Magazine)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buddy Cianci - The Prince of Providence

Buddy Cianci was mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984, the tail end of which I was a young sprout living in Providence. Buddy was notorious for many things - his shady cronies, his temper, his difficulties with the opposite sex, even his toupee. While I was living in a boarding house on Benefit Street, my fellow tenants included ex-cons, recovering alcoholics, furloughed mental patients, a gaggle of art students and even a couple of budding journalists. I hobnobbed with some folks in the latter three categories, who themselves rubbed shoulders with other folks in the first two categories. Buddy was the talk of the town in those days, and everybody in the boarding house pitched in their two cents. Rumor had it that Buddy had been accused of rape during his law student days at Marquette University in Wisconsin, but that the whole case had been hushed up and Buddy had been allowed to go free. Rumor also had it, and indeed had it from all sides like the rat-a-tat-tat from a tommy gun ambush, that Buddy even had Mafia connections. Ironic, considering he first made his fame prosecuting mob boss Raymond Patriarca in the early 70's. But still, this was Providence and Buddy was Italian... He ended his first run as mayor in the most humiliating way possible, in the role of a spiteful beta male who reputedly abused his wife's boyfriend "for three hours" with "a lit cigarette, an ashtray and a fireplace log". Consequently, he resigned. Like many another hyper-aggressive fireplug of a guy, Buddy had fight in him to burn (in a fireplace, if necessary). He promptly found a new venue for his motor-mouth predilections as a radio talk show host, stayed in the public eye (not to mention its ear) and eventually got himself re-elected in 1991. He served several more years as mayor, eventually landing on the wrong side of the law yet again. In 2001, he faced charges for "racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering and mail fraud". He defied the charges and stayed in office until convicted of conspiracy in 2002, after which he was sentenced to five years in federal prison. He is the subject of at least one biography. Hollywood apparently has (or had) a movie about him in the works, with Oliver Platt in the title role. Good casting! I say, "Why not?" Buddy was more fun than a barrel full of Mush-Mouth Menino monkeys.

Buddy Cianci (Wikipedia)
The Prince of Providence (
The Many Faces of Buddy (Providence Phoenix)

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Requiem For One Tough Cat

He was the best mouse-killer I ever knew - a hitcat, but also a hep cat in the sense that he was a real swinger as well as a tough guy, always in my wife's lap, forever cuddling up around her boobs and draping his huge, lynx-worthy paw around her neck. I'm talkin' here about our family cat, formerly called "Professor" the way some criminals get called "Doc" - and for the same reason, his smarts. He had many aliases, including "Fessa", "Prof-Kitty" and "Izzy Fesskowitz". He rose from humble beginnings, spending his first year or two in some godforsaken trailer park in North Carolina, where he was burned with cigarettes and otherwise abused. He eventually ended up in state care, and was just about to be put down for his general obstreperousness when one of my wife's former students saw something in him, and adopted him. A year or two later, he ended up with us. He was a rascal from the get-go, rattling the blinds in our bedroom to get us up in the morning, or holding the septum of my wife's nose between his teeth to wake her up (when he wasn't sinking his claws into her scalp). He more than made up for his bad manners with his mouse-killing skills. I can still fuckin' remember being awakened from an erotic dream at three AM in the morning by this god-awful growling, punctuated by the sound of flesh being torn. I peeked over the side of the bed to see young Fessa tearing the bejesus out of some unfortunate mouse. He'd caught the mouse in the kitchen and had brought his kill up to us as tribute, "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" style. I don't know about my wife, but I was appreciative of his efforts. On later occasions, my wife and I would come back from a night out on the town to find the body parts of mice on our living room carpet. I remember one mangled liver in particular. Eventually, Fessa and I began to tussle regularly. I'd come at him with my hand wrapped up in three or four grungy gym socks, take hold of the guy, wrestle him down, and tickle the hell out of him until he hissed, bit and finally kicked his way to freedom. After which, he'd circle back for more. What a guy! Then, after our bouts with The Sock, I'd lie on the couch to rest, and he'd climb up onto my chest, purring up a storm as he held me captive. He was our in-house hitcat for thirteen years. About four months ago, we noticed that he'd gone blind. He got around the house pretty good despite that, but late last week his legs started to go and he got confused, circling endlessly around the kitchen like he didn't know where the hell he was. We took him to the vet, and she promptly diagnosed a brain tumor, one that was moving fast. The Saturday before Easter, the missus and I contracted a hit on our own hitcat, and helped hold him down while the vet put him out of his misery. He sleeps with duh fishes now, ya see, dreamin' (we hope) of tuna dinners in eternal paradise.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Captain Crunch - The Forgotten "Cereal Killer" of Providence

In the scuzzy old world of Providence back in the eighties, when the Cosa Nostra ruled City Hall as well as Federal Hill and young miscreants were catching all sorts of diseases in downtown clubs, my girlfriend got to be great pals with a serial killer. I shit you not. My girlfriend then was a fiery little critter taking conceptual art courses at RISD, but to make ends meet she worked as a waitress at a downtown Dunkin' Donuts. She worked the nightshift and got to know all the local late-night workers and assorted street people. They must have liked her for her nonconformist vibe. I know I did. One of these folks was a sometime cab driver and failed transvestite whose actual name I do not remember. Rail-thin, long-haired and apparently quite sexually ambiguous, he/she kinda liked my girl, and often warned her sternly that, "It's not safe out there". Indeed it wasn't. At about that time, a serial killer was cruising the streets. This dude specialized in older women, and even violated one of his victims with a broom handle. In retrospect, the guy sounds like he was takin' his moves from The Boston Strangler's playbook, but he had a distinctive moniker of his own. The phrase "serial killer" was relatively new back then, and the Providence cops made a joke of it by referring to the guy as "Captain Crunch". (Get it? "Cereal killer"?) A few months later, they had their man. So to speak. They hauled in my girlfriend's buddy, and he went to jail, never to be heard from again. He never even made it into The Serial Killer Hall of Fame. Luminaries like Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy never had to share the stage with him. I asked my girlfriend if having known this guy sent chills up her spine. All she did was shrug and say, "Well, he did seem a little strange - and weak. Very weak." I'd link to an article about this guy if I could, but I can't find a damn thing about him. Crime doesn't pay (as they claim), and sometimes it doesn't even make you famous.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Richard Marinick - Ex-Con As Literary Dude

Make no mistake, Richard Marinick is a real writer - maybe too much so for crime fiction. The only book I've read of his so far is Boyos, but it took me forever to get through it. It was a "fine novel", as such works are generally called. Dead-on physical description, numerous intimate tableaux of criminal culture, but so much of this "slice of life" stuff that it kind of interfered with the plot. I mean, he has his bad guys hanging around, sitting in cars, shootin' the bull endlessly about lots of different shit before they ever get down to business. I accept the likelihood that Marinick's novel is true to life. After all, Marinick was himself once a criminal. He's one of these guys who, despite his obvious talent, probably got into print based on his startling back story. A big hunk of a dude, and a smart guy too, he found his way into the elite of the Massachusetts State Police. Then something went haywire, and he ended up robbing armored trucks for a living, and then - worse yet - spending all the proceeds on cocaine. It was only after he got caught, and served time, that his writing gifts began to flower. That, along with treating the Massachusetts prison system almost like his own private gym, it seems, running laps, doing astronomical quantities of crunches. I mean, the guy is a masterpiece as a concept - "hunky ex-criminal crime writer". If only he weren't so damn literary. Nonetheless, despite these caveats, I would recommend Boyos. It's the sort of book that reminds you that the crime world is first and foremost a social world, in which people relate to one another in many different ways, of which committing crimes is only one of many. In fact, for a lot of these guys, they only do the crime so they can fart around with their buddies with all that free time their lifestyle allows. Doing drugs or shooting pool or twiddling their thumbs or wolfing down sausage heroes or whatnot. Marinick is a good writer, definitely, but not an especially commercial one. Think of him less as a crime writer than as an ex-criminal who writes. He once claimed that he doesn't earn through his novels even a fraction of what he used to rake in from his crimes. Hopefully that has changed. He has also said that he used to aspire to be a writer of books for children before he turned his pen to pointillistic little punch-ups of the tough-guy universe. He can always revisit that aspiration. God knows there's a booming market for anything that will make those little devils literate and keep them off the streets.

Interview with Identity Theory
Interview with Boston Magazine

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Excellently Ridiculous Roxbury Adventure

I am such a tough white dude that even black guys are afraid of me. Some years back, when I was supportin' myself hand-to-mouth as a warehouse worker (and hardware salesman, all connotations intended) I met a young black dude at Father's Three on Mass. Ave. This was, like, back in the day, keep in mind. This was past the Afro-wearing epoch and before the wearing-your-pants-halfway-down-to-yo'- ass epoch, in terms of how black dudes accoutred their persons back then. I started up a conversation with the dude. Turned out he had some cocaine to sell. Hey, I was game. Fuck! I'd just been paid, and was ready to part with my hard-earned cash like any other wage-earning fool. He led me out the door. I half expected to be mugged, so I made sure to walk behind him, rather than vice versa. He kept turning to look at me, bright-eyed and nervous-like. He got me into his car, of all things, and then we took off. "Where we goin'?" I asked. "Roxbury, man," he said. "Mission Hill." Turned out he didn't actually have the coke on him, mind you. Ah, well, my life was okay while it lasted, I figured. With me strapped into the passenger seat, we zipped south on Massachusetts Avenue, then hung a right after about a mile and drove on up through a cluster of crappy-lookin' clapboard houses all stuck together on some hill. Sort of reminded me of this Positano-type Italian village, all hilly and cramped, but rendered Boston style. However, this was sure as hell no Italian neighborhood. This was The Hood, period. We arrived at some house. We walked in. Two other black dudes were there. It was like three A.M. already, and they were all lookin' fidgety and shifty-eyed at me. One of the guys camped out at the kitchen table and cut some fresh cocaine. The other guy from the house jabbered sotto voce with the guy that took me there, asking (I think) if I were gay or something. (You know, not that I was.) I noticed all three of these black guys were shorter than me. Not munchkin short, mind you, but we're not talking Wilt Chamberlain here either. I got the coke all right, but the guys wanted to share it with me. Pleading, clamoring for it. Intimidation in the guise of neediness, I guess. I said, "Yeah. What the fuck" to avoid getting shivved. I thought we'd do it there, but no. The guy that drove me down and one of his pals (the chubby one that thought I was gay) zoomed all the way back downtown to the campus of some fancy-ass women's college of all things, where one of these dudes had a girlfriend, and we end up snortin' it all on the men's room floor. In a freakin' girls' dormitory! No shit. Wussy as that. We spread a paper towel on the tile floor, and I took out a box cutter from my warehouse job. It wasn't one of those big Stanley box-cutters, one of those huge, honkin', I-want-to-hijack-your-plane-you-infidel box-cutters. It was one of those miniature box-cutters with a blade about a quarter inch long. I was gonna use it to form the lines. But both the black guys started getting hysterical, crying, "Don't cut us, man! Don't cut us!" I cursed under my breath, explained what I was doing, and it was copacetic after that. The last thing I remember, we were on all fours like a trio of hogs, snortin' as much coke as our noses could handle. The black dudes ended up getting at least half of what I'd freakin' paid for - but what the hell! It was worth it to see the bloods cringe and squeal at my tiny knife!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dissin' The Old Master

An interviewer once asked Andre Gide who the best French poet was, and he said, "Victor Hugo... Alas!" If you asked a lot of people who the best Boston crime novelist is (or was), most would say Robert B. Parker. And maybe some (like me) would say, "Unfortunately..." I'm not saying Parker isn't good. My shelf of Spenser novels is like a cardboard tube of Pringles potato chips. Look that mustachioed guy on the package in the eye, open up his wares, and I guarantee you that you won't be able to eat just one. Same thing with the Spenser series. They're addictive. His writing is always crisp, the chapters short, the pace swift. He is a master of dialogue - at least in the limited venue of sarcastic repartee. He's sort of like the one guy in the orchestra who plays the cymbal, great at what he does, but what else can he do? Sell books, certainly. The Spenser series had the magic. Twenty-odd years ago, when Parker's game was still fresh, a friend of mine and I used to read every new Spenser novel that came out, and we'd have great times talking about them, comparing them to guys as diverse as Raymond Chandler and Jonathan Valin. One thing we agreed on was that Robert Urich wasn't crusty enough (and certainly not Irish enough) to play Spenser in Spenser For Hire - although Avery Brooks was perfect as Hawk. My friend and I thought a younger Brian Keith might have been better. Beyond that though, my appreciation was a lot more skeptical than his. I always found the Spenser novels a little too pat, too smugly formulaic, not really scary enough to be suspenseful and even a little bland. After my friend and I parted ways, I went years before reading another Spenser novel. I have a couple of Spenser novels sitting in my bookcase that somebody had bought for me in the nineties. I decided to read one of them recently - Playmates, an opus from 1989 about a college basketball scandal. That book pretty much revealed to me where the corpse of my long-buried misgivings about Spenser novels lay buried. Spenser never seems to sweat. He's supposed to be a guy in his fifties, but he's smackin' down coaches, arm-twisting six-foot-nine college basketball players, and never even gets out of breath. Indeed, he's zingin' out his peppy sardonic one-liners even then. The New York mob puts out a hit on him, but that doesn't faze him either. He calls in his pal, Hawk, the black Superman of Mattapan, and the two of them make light of the bad dudes like a couple of senior varsity jocks knockin' the freshmen. He never seems to experience fear. He never so much as stammers, gets the willies or becomes confused. Even his private life is perfect. His main squeeze, Susan Silverman, is beautiful, brilliant, mature, loving, wise, hot to trot - and as much of a quip artist as he is. Despite advanced middle age, Spenser's powers and fortunes are not declining, he doesn't seem to worry about his waistline or his sexual potency. The only thing middle-aged about this character is his complacency. For such a mass of muscle, he pays unseemly attention to other men's wardrobes and what he and everyone he dines with happen to be eating. At times like this, he comes off about as macho as a New York restaurant critic. His dandyish material preoccupations are more those of an affluent literary lion than those of a hard-scrabble PI. Outside of clothes, food, the comical bodily deficiencies of his antagonists, and the matter-of-fact personal magnificence of Susan and his best friend Hawk, Parker's Spenser describes nothing else with any real vividness. With Raymond Chandler, despite the murky plotlines, you get a real sense of what Los Angeles looked like. But with Parker, you get rough sketches and a few stoical asides about Boston traffic, and that's generally it. And yet, once I finished reading Playmates, I wanted to read another Spenser novel. They are still perfect little engines of entertainment. However, I do think even Parker was getting bored with Spenser's complacency towards the end. Ergo, his fine Jesse Stone series. At least Jesse Stone has flaws. He drinks (a lot, to judge from the Tom Selleck TV movies based on his character), his personal life is a shambles and he's almost certainly running away from some horrendous mistake he made. And he's definitely proof that Parker was getting sick of Spenser, too.

Official Web Site
Robert B. Parker (Wikipedia)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Donnybrooks Of Yesteryear

How nostalgic I am for the fisticuffs of my misspent youth! My first opponent is now a sports doctor in Florida, but I socked him hollow at the age of eight. Curiously, even though I won the bout, he won the prize - I knocked out one of his baby teeth, and his mother left a quarter under his pillow. Needless to say, that restored our friendship. My battles would never be so friendly again. I had two fights in junior high school that were like duels. In one of them, we even had seconds. The fattest kid in seventh grade and I (who was pretty plump then too) lumbered into the woods to throw missed punches at each other like a pair of bipedal elephants, until our seconds led us away. In eighth grade, I rabbit-punched a skinny kid after he thumped a basketball into my gut and, again, it was into the woods. I'd hurt my foot in gym and could barely move, managing to hit him just once on the butt as he flew around me like a puglistic hummingbird. In ninth grade, I nurtured a mean right hook. I hit three kids that year - one in the lunchroom, another in the corridor between the freshman building and the main building (my math teacher caught me and the moron held me over for detention), and then once more, in mechanical drawing class. The teacher, Monkey Maguire, was a crew-cutted and insanely strict ex-Marine who liked to show Vietnam War documentaries as end-of-the-term treats. It was like he thought we were re-designing the M-16 or something. Anyway, there was one kid who used to come up behind guys while they scratched and smudged their way through their assignments, and hock up some phlegm like he was about to spit. Then he moved on to someone else. I was waiting for him. As soon as I heard him breathe in behind me, I whacked the fucker hard in the throat with the back of my left hand. Without even looking. That stopped him cold. After class, he moaned, "You can't go around hitting people..." Boo-hoo. In tenth grade, I whacked a kid in gym. In eleventh grade, I walloped another joker in the freakin' locker room. Regrettably, this dude was a jock, so after a brief stunned moment as he rubbed his jaw, he pummeled me back a little bit to keep his pride. He was tan and sleek then, the fuck, but I saw him at my sister's graduation three years later and he already had a paunch at the age of twenty. Then onto college. I got to slug smart people there. One twitchy little guy with a dingus the size of a mushroom, whose claim to fame was that he once had the highest IQ in the Des Moines school system, was jonesin' me about my (supposed) Irish Curse, and I silenced him with a Phallic Phist of Man Meat. A chain smoker back in the day, he is now a fancy attorney whose specialty is hauling tobacco industry whistle blowers into court. Then there was the 140 IQ ex-jock pre-med with reflexes so cretinously slow that I could dance around him with roiling fists, scoring coups while he barely laid a hand on me. Finally, there was the 160 IQ academic screw-up and genius amateur sound system engineer who strode about, blond-haired and Nazi-like, preaching the virtues of Republicanism on the fourth floor of Richman Hall. We tussled too. He got a wrestle hold on me, but I kept crepitating his skull with my iron knuckles until he let me go. The lump I gave him made him look as swell-headed for once as he actually was. Then there were the barroom louts. One bartender belabored me with the intelligence that his ancestors were Antrim land-owners who "kept the Irish as slaves", whereupon I spat a mouthful of ice cubes at him, he jumped over the bar, and we pranced about in grapple-mode till his buddies pitched in, pulled us apart, and kicked me out. I tried the same manuever with some other drooling imbecile at a bar called Muldoon's in Providence. I was reading a Stanley Elkin book and he kept spitting at my head until I got fed up, complained to the barmaid, then lost my patience and rose up like fuckin' Moby Dick and said... sort of like... "bad things", very loudly. I did not know at that time that he was a bouncer, and therefore an employee of the bar. I tried to hold the guy back, he was so fat and so slow, but he got the better of me anyway and broke my nose. I came away with a two-inch wide stripe of blood down the front of my ivory sweater and a nose that clicked at the bridge every time I tried to wobble it for at least a decade afterward. Oh, yes, I've had my donnybrooks...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Blackfriars Massacre

My late beloved Uncle Patrick, famous throughout the family for his six-and-a-half foot frame, his flame-red hair and his ability play a dozen different games of tiddlywinks simultaneously, claimed to have encountered a refugee from the Blackfriars Massacre in the Father's Three bar on Mass. Ave. back in the summer of '78. The refugee in question was an Italian-American lad still cowering in terror from his brush with The Boston Mob. According to Uncle Pat, the lad was a busboy at Blackfriars and had witnessed something, but he did not say exactly what. The lad's nervously darting eyes suggested that he was telling the truth, what little of the truth he was willing to tell. Uncle Pat was at the time getting blasted at one of those dimly lit, fluted-wood tables at the back of the bar, and could barely register what the lad was saying anyway. His drinking buddy, a pipe-smoking failed painter and self-described "goof" named Parker Prescott, didn't take the lad's account seriously. But then, that dude never took anything seriously. The Blackfriars Massacre involved the gangland style slaying of five men "in the cramped, blood-spattered subterranean basement" of the Blackfriars disco in the wee hours of June 28, 1978. One of the deceased was John A. Kelly, a thirty-four year old ex-TV reporter who was working as the manager of the club. Kelly had been trying to re-enter investigative journalism, and had often been seen “in the company of known members of organized crime” in the months prior to the shooting. The club's owner was a guy named Vincent Solomonte, a onetime friend of Stephen Flemmi, Whitey Bulger's righthand man. There was hearsay evidence that Flemmi and Whitey Bulger were among the hitmen at the scene, but nobody's been able to prove it. Since police "discovered a small arsenal of firearms and small quantities of cocaine and marijuana including $15,000 in loose cash in an open safe", it is safe to say that the massacre was a deliberate hit, and not a botched robbery. The victims had apparently been surprised in the middle of a backgammon game, and whacked with a shotgun and an automatic pistol. Did Kelly found out something he shouldn't have? Did Flemmi and Bulger hold some grudge against Solomonte? It's unlikely we'll ever know, and the case remains unsolved. The real mystery is why nobody has made a movie about this yet. God knows, it has all the freakin' elements.

Blackfriars Massacre (Wikipedia)
The Friends of Jack Kelly (Boston Phoenix)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Boston's Charles Street Jail Is Now A Freakin' Hotel

Several months ago I discovered that the Suffolk County Jail in Boston - commonly known as the Charles Street Jail - had been converted into something called The Liberty Hotel. The freakin' jail used to take up a big chunk of your visual field if you were on the Red Line train on the way from Charles Street to Park, and just happened to be looking to your left. Hideous brick monstrosity. Particularly depressing on those overcast, hungover mornings when you were truckin' into work and would rather be anyplace else. Sacco and Vanzetti, Malcolm X, and former mayor James Michael Curley had all been incarcerated there back in the day. Indeed, so had one of the South Boston hooligans who murdered my boyhood friend. This micreant, some egregious dude named Shaughnessy, hanged himself there rather than go to trial. Coward! Now his ghost haunts the place. Along with an ectoplasmic goop-load of other ghosts. I'd known the place had been closed for years, but hadn't expected this. It's right next to Mass. General Hospital, and apparently housed lunatics too at one point. The jail had been built in 1851. Now it's been converted into the kind of synthetically creepy venue that yuppies can pretend to be hipsters by sleeping in, or screwing in, or ordering a dacquiri in. The sort of place that appeals to smug upper middle-class assholes with a taste for the horrific who nonetheless assume that bad shit will never touch them. As you can see from the photo, the skeletons of some of the old cell blocks have been converted into an obscenely glittering and backlit indoor arcade. They gotta have a fuckin' bar! What the hell? I might order a vodka martini there myself sometime, maybe with the wife in tow, and lift a sardonic toast to the phantom that killed my pal.

Charles Street Jail (Wikipedia)
The Liberty Hotel (Boston Globe)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Darwin And Me

Do you remember when what is now called "middle school" was called "junior high school" instead? If you do, you may be an "old" - but I do, and I don't give a fuck if that makes me an "old" or not. Anyway, when I was in eighth grade I got pleasantly dragooned into a weekly bull session with three other boys, all seventh graders. We would sit around with our guidance counselor, a tall, affable, red-headed dude with hornrim glasses, and talk about whatever we wanted to. We discussed many subjects - Sacco and Vanzetti, the Boston Strangler, even Leopold and Loeb. I was a crime buff then too, but didn't even quite know it yet. The other kids were named John, Mark and Gregory - like a bunch of saints, although Mark was Jewish and this sure as hell was no Catholic school. We all became friends, sort of, and we even arranged a field trip to the Great Meadows, a wildlife preserve in Concord, Mass. It was just me, Greg and John, the three of us transported to the, ahem, "wilderness" by John's father. We clumped around the dirt paths of the Great Meadows, jones'ing like the little hard-ons we were to kick Mother Nature's ass. In some respects, the great green lady pre-empted us. We found the corpses of a muskrat and a skunk, each ripped up by the unmistakable micro-carnage that can only be caused by small animals' teeth. They both lay belly up, just two feet apart on either side of the dirt path. The three of us performed some playground CSI, and came to the conclusion that they had killed each other. Like the pseudo-intellectual twit I was at thirteen, long before I became a hitman, I prattled away about "Darwin" and "the survival of the fittest". Despite or- for all I know - because of this high-falutin' talk, Greg and John got fired up with blood-lust. Greg picked up a box turtle, and hurled the freakin' thing across some pond like a discus, not giving a hoot where it landed. Meanwhile, John found a frog and stomped on it, twice, until it gurgled blood and died. Once we returned to John's Dad's car, we told him about our brief exposure to The Brutality of Nature. John's Dad was a stand-up guy, although he was sitting down then, in the driver's seat, sucking on his pipe. He and his wife were older parents, and John was their only child. It goes without saying that the kid was spoiled, or cherished, or most likely both. John volunteered the fact that his Dad had seen a child get run over by a truck when he was young, and his Dad acknowledged that thoughtfully, tolerantly, sucking on his pipe. "It wasn't something you'd ever want to see," he told us. The three of us nodded silently. It was spring by then, and I would graduate from, uh, "junior high school" a few weeks later. I never spoke with Greg, Mark or John again. That fall Greg, in the pits over a failed "love affair" (or whatever, he was just thirteen), hanged himself in his backyard. Time passed. The surviving kids did well (real well, except for me). Mark got into Harvard. John got into MIT. Almost no one from my high school got into schools like that, but they did. And then, before John turned twenty-one, he was dead, murdered by a bunch of low-lifes from South Boston. Of those three kids checkin' out the violence of nature on that spring day in the woods, only one of us lived to adulthood. Did I survive because I was the fittest? Or was Darwin just full of it like everyone else?