Often when I’m out and about-- which sounds more romantic than walking down the street, I smell a smell, hear a sound or see something that takes me back to a place or time I can remember so vividly, it is almost as if I am there. It’s not exactly like déjà vu, because I don’t feel like I’ve lived the experience before. It’s just a moment during which time I actually relive something that has happened and I know what it is. Like yesterday when I was walking past the Avis car rental place on our block in NY. I looked at the woman behind the desk and I felt exactly like I did when I was working at Snelling and Snelling an employment agency where they made me change my name and then fired me because they said I was not supposed to be a social worker and it didn’t matter if the people liked the jobs I made them take. That must have been the first time I determined I would work in the public interest—or maybe not. They were just crummy people who wanted to make a lot of money at other people’s expense. But they did find jobs for the unemployed. And the employer not the employee paid—so it was not all bad.
This morning when I was driving in Boonton, NJ, the place where I grew up, I passed a park where there were young adults playing, hugging and laughing. For just a moment I felt like I did when I was in high school during recess. I actually felt like I was 16. I mean, I was back at school driving Ronnie’s Edsell (a car for those too young to remember), back to the parking lot and hoping a door wouldn’t fall off—which happened all the time. I smiled when I pictured us carrying the door into the cafeteria on more than one occasion. That took me to my house at lunch time where we (Pam and Joyce and me) went everyday to watch soaps and eat tuna fish sandwiches. And no we weren’t supposed to do that, but we scheduled study halls before and after lunch period so what else was there to do.
I was close to my high school so I pulled into the empty parking lot, turned off the car and sat for while. I was no longer experiencing “the moment”, but it was nice... just nice to reflect a bit about what was and who was...
Some of my friends were cheerleaders or athletes, some were academics, some troublemakers, and some were nuts. We were all from blue collar families, but mine owned a major factory that employed half the town— my parents were not rich, my aunts did OK. We were mostly Protestant, Polish, German or Italian. There were 50 Jewish families, no blacks and there was one Asian guy who owned a small Chinese restaurant. It was a middle class community surrounded by ‘restricted communities’ or as they were called then, Christian Communities. Some of my friends lived in those places and went to high school with us, but neither I nor any of them actually knew what that meant—except Jews and Italians couldn’t live there. Which I didn’t quite understand, because I thought Italians were Christians. It didn’t matter, we never let a gate stop us from getting together. Then we grew up and mostly disconnected.
Joey Consintino was in his late fifties and still about four feet tall. Hence he was always called, Little Joey – which was obvious to anyone with even one eye. Children can be terribly cruel about people who are different, so his life was never easy. But that didn’t stop him from having a kind word or a prayer for whoever needed one. When we were kids, and he was a little younger then we were, he liked to hang out with my friends – the supposed popular students. I earned my popularity through humor—I was never a good student, not particularly beautiful, or an athlete (we had no girls sports whatsoever. We had red gym suits and ran around the track trying not to mess our hair—that was it), but I was always funny. Funny was almost as much a plus as cute—which did I mention, I also was. And we adopted Joey like he was our mascot or worse, our puppy. This did not mean he got invited to all the parties or special exclusive events—like getting drunk in the peach orchard—but he could sit with us at the diner or a football game. We weren’t overly generous, although we could afford to be since we were popular. And it wasn’t that we were cruel, but as teenagers we didn’t have the time or desire to really know Joey. He was just there—Little Joey. Most teenagers are good at superficial and unconcerned about deep. We were just good at having fun and maybe being a little callous.
Most of us grew up and some moved away. But not Little Joey. He stayed at less than four feet and never went anywhere. Whenever I would see him, I always got a big smile and a hug. Sometimes, when I didn’t see him but he saw me, he would chase after me and give me hell for not acknowledging him. He never let anyone get away with not being nice—whether it was intentional or not. When my mom got sick, he e-mailed me every week to ask how she was and say she was in his prayers.
I hadn’t heard from Joey for a few weeks when I got a note from Tommy Mac two days ago saying that little Joey had died. He had kidney problems. His body stopped working and he was gone. Even though our meetings were infrequent, I will miss him and, of course, his prayers. So if you have just a minute when you finish this blob, put Joey in your prayers— he would have done it for you. We’re just sayin...