I learned about Tony’s dying only recently, although the actuality of it came some time ago.
For those of us who scatted after graduating elementary school, those friendships and feuds we achieved early tended to mean more than any we collected later in high school, and so the list of names that we have in our head and the faces we collected as school mates are better reflected in our 8th grade year book than in the later ones we gathered in schools far from home.
Tony’s name came up during a conversation with another old classmate from that era, someone I had heard off, connected remotely with through still other classmates, but had not talked to since 1965’s graduation.
I had missed our 30th anniversary in 1995, partly because of my job, partly also because of Hank, my all time best friend I had hooked up during my high school years.
Our school was a collection of mostly white Italian kids from North East Clifton and the
section of Paterson, and we came in
every shape and size, living up to many of the stereotypes TV would later paint
Tony was classic mobster sidekick, slick haired, thin, with a somewhat sleazy manner that made him love switch blades and pointed leather shoes.
But he was a side kick to a Pollock named Leonard, who during all the years of grammar school was my arch enemy, the boy who took pleasure in trying to bully me until finally, one night during a boy scout meeting, I took both of them outside and beat them up.
Actually, it was more of a slapstick comic scene on the front lawn of the school, where I hit Leonard over the head with one of his own shoes while with my other hand kept rolling Tony down the hill just to keep him from annoying me.
The scout master walked in on the scene, threw Leonard and Tony out of the scouts, but for some reason took pity on me and let me return, even though I was as corrupt a scout as Leonard and Tony were, treating out weekend camp outs as a kind of keg party and an opportunity for revenge. I had once let their lean-to fire expire during a winter weekend when we got trap at the camp in the middle of a blizzard. I also cheated in scouting competitions, winning all sort prizes such as map reading and compass direction by guess work.
I think the scout master saw hope for me, where as he did not for Tony or Leonard, and honestly hoped scouting could save me from my worst tendencies when he already knew Tony and Leonard would end up badly.
Some people are capable of changing; others not.
My best friend, Hank, was doomed to die, because he could not get out of the record groove life had deposited him in when very young.
Tony was the same way.
As a toadie for Leonard, he was not overly ambitious – a major flaw in the shark-eat-shark world of corruption, where only the most crafty and vicious manage to rise to the top of the pond scum. Tony had he been born in another generation, might have hung on like my uncle did, just another mafia soldier doing his little bit and getting his little bit back. But we were all filled with expectations of our generation, and all fell into the same traps of drugs and delusion of grandeur.
Tony didn’t even end up in the Paul’s Tavern the way most of our male classmates did, taking up the stool his father had kept warm for so many years. He shot up and became one of those characters who came knocking on old friends’ doors, begging to get enough for another fix, until he got one fix too much, and passed on.
So hearing of his dying was not a surprise, just a sad disappointment because even are enemies are dear to us after so long a time of expended energy, and more the shame for the wasted effort.