When I heard about this publication opportunity, I knew in my heart that it would be one that might cut both ways. What I am about to describe is a subject I have talked about for hours, and one on which I have written reams, but never for public consumption. (That is making the generous assumption that anyone besides the judges even reads it.) It is a topic I will not go near until I am past certain that my listener or reader has known me long enough to see the kind of man I am. I must have a well-honed sixth sense because, until now, nobody has ever stopped me in the middle of my story and told me that they have heard enough and that I have been purposely deceptive and that I am such a horrible person that I deserve to be locked away for good. Again, I think this is because I am confident that my confidante has witnessed me in so many situations where my light has shone that they may find it hard to believe that I am actually describing an incident that took place in my life. Now I am venturing into uncharted waters—a kind of “coming out,” if I may borrow the phrase from the gays. I shall pretend that my audience is a standing room only crowd of one and that this audience has already drawn a favorable opinion of my character. On these winds will I set sail and let’s see where the ship ends up.
I am going to tell you how I ended up homeless for the first time at age 53 in Boston in the dead of winter in 2012. This epoch of my epic can best be described as a tragicomedy, although I have rarely found it funny. On the other hand, I have become well acquainted with the tragedy part and in trying to come to terms with it, I have many times concluded that it was simply too big and too scary to fight and that the best solution was suicide. Life as I had known it would never be the same and through the haze of my alcohol and drug-addled brain, I just didn’t think I had whatever it would take to find a way to live under the sword of Damocles for perhaps the rest of my life.
Before I begin my tale of woe and wonder, a word or two about the title. This past spring I took a course called “American Foreign Policy since 1898”. In this course we learned that the United States has done, is doing, and will continue to do WHATEVER it takes to keep its place atop the heap. A very revealing and often sickening activity. Now every time I eat a piece of fruit I wonder what lengths we went to to ensure that my banana is firm and yellow and fresh off the boat. Did we depose an overly nationalistic leader who had the audacity to suggest to the colonial powers that his country ought to reap the profits of its own bananas and replace him with somebody more willing to play ball the American way? How many people had to die? And what about the people who have to pick the damn things? The scales were literally peeled from my eyes. And then one day we were studying the recent history between the United States and Iran and the whole Shah thing when I came upon this word that I chose for my title. For some reason, I loved the word the moment I read it. It sounded so cool and provided me with some graphic mental imagery. Why hasn’t anybody chosen this word as a name for their band? Tonight Van Halen performs with very special guest Blowback!
Turns out that none other than the Central Intelligence Agency coined this gem back in 1953 when the then nascent CIA decided that the man the Iranian people had elected to run their country was just not the right fit for the United States and our best ally, Great Britain. For decades the Brits controlled the vast oil reserves located under Iranian sand and made ridiculous profits for themselves. In 1953 a man named Mossedegh was elected who had some strange ideas. Imagine, this guy believed that since the oil was the property of Iran, then why not nationalize the petroleum industry so that the Iranians themselves could profit? Not so fast, Mossedegh! When Mossedegh reminded the Brits that they had recently nationalized their own lumber industry, the Brits were outraged at being lectured by a man they considered of inferior stock and the shrieks could be heard all the way back to Tehran. This prompted the Brits to seek the assistance of the United States, as Mossedegh actually kicked the British embassy out of Iran! They came up with a plan to oust Mossedegh and replace him with the Shah, who had skipped out of his own country with his wife and in fear of his life and was then living abroad in Europe. And so it was. Mossedegh was placed under house arrest and the Shah was installed. The Shah formed the hated Savak, his own secret police force who terrorized the Iranians for the next 25 years and stifled any dissent with ruthless efficiency and maximum brutality. Not being complete idiots, the CIA realized that their covert actions on foreign soil might come back to bite them in the ass in the future. They never imagined that what they did in 1953 would fester and ooze puss for 25 years until the stitches burst and out of the slime emerged one Ayatollah Khomeini, an utterly revolting and demented pedophile whose arrival on the global stage forever changed the international political scene. One could make a plausible argument that what the CIA did in Iran in ’53 culminated with the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001.
Blowback = Ayatollah Khomeini. An official definition would be “an unforeseen and unwanted effect, result, or set of repercussions which may take years to manifest themselves.” So we see that the term is really a sexy word for unforeseen consequences. Besides a gratuitous and lengthy explanation of my title, I included these paragraphs on Iran because even I experienced some of the blown back exhaust fumes from this stinker. You see, in 1981 I joined the United States Army as a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division for one reason and one reason only: to rescue our hostages and to kill as many frothing-at-the-mouth-muslim-fanatics as was possible. And I would have done it too, and with the jawbone of an ass if that’s all that was available. Essentially, these fanatics are ignorant, uneducated cowards. They hide in hospitals, stash their weapons in schools, and send the feeble-minded to be human sacrifices for the god of their death cult. When the hapless Jimmy Carter left office and Ronald Reagan was about to assume the Presidency and looking for any way to lead America out of the culture of defeat and despair she felt after the '70s whipped her ass with Viet Nam and Watergate, these animals realized the game was over and that if they did not release the hostages, Iran would cease to exist. Reagan would have bombed them back to the seventh century where they belong and want to be anyway, so no great loss to them or us, right? Truly a win/win scenario.
But now I was all dressed up with no place to go. Here I was in basic training with a high level of motivation to complete my infantry training, then go a mile up the road at Fort Benning to learn how to jump out of airplanes, then go to the 82nd at Fort Bragg, then straight to Tehran to kill the ayatollah and his band of dirty, hairy, smelly followers who were openly defying the United States. Well, I had no Plan B, so my only choice was to stay and try to find another raison d’etre. I was so certain that I would be involved in combat with Iran that I never even considered the possibility it might not happen, especially after we tried unsuccessfully to rescue them with a covert operation. And with Reagan in office, how could we NOT go to war?!? To be perfectly honest, I was driven by two forces to join the Army: patriotism and desperation.
The whole four years of high school, my parents and I assumed that I would be eligible for financial aid to go to college. Once again, we never considered the possibility that I would not receive the money I would need to go to a good school, so when that actually happened, we were devastated. I had done my part. I graduated 10th in my class of 1978 from Middleborough Memorial High School in Middleborough, Massachusetts—the Cranberry Capital of the World. (Our town mascot is called the “Cranimal,” and a cherished and beloved figure is he as he cavorts about in his maroon costume at parades and high school sporting events.) I was the captain of our varsity basketball team and was good enough to play at any college. So I had the grades and the intangibles covered. That was my job. My father was a Registered Pharmacist, but we had six children in our family and he was trying to begin his own business in Halifax, Massachusetts, which is just south of nowhere. These days it is a thriving little community but in the late '60s and early '70s it had a nerve to even name itself. His pharmacy never made it there, so my father had to work for other pharmacists who owned their own places of business. And he had to do so on a per diem or hourly basis which obviously does not pay as well as owning your own successful pharmacy. None of this mattered to me. My dad told me to worry about school and sports and he would worry about the money.
From the time I was 8, I had my own paper route. And I mowed lawns and shoveled snow as the seasons dictated. I was taught the value of a dollar, a hard day’s work and a firm handshake. During junior high, I had a morning paper route which meant I had to get up at 5:00 a.m., do my route, then go to school. By the time I was 12, I had almost $3,000 in my joint savings account with my dad. I also had a terrible basketball jones. I stopped playing the other three major American sports and focused entirely on basketball. That’s probably why I sort of forgot about my bank account or stopped paying close attention. Once I entered high school, I no longer had to do a paper route, but now I need money for “burgers and shakes” and whatnot. One small problem, though…
My father could only keep it from me for so long. Looking back, maybe he could have played it off for years, but I found the bank book when I was looking for money (which I should not have had to do, since I had three large in the bank!) After all, he was not my biological father, but they managed to keep that rather significant secret for almost 18 years. Guess how much money was left in my account that had held over $2,800 I had earned since age 8 with my own sweat and labor? Not even $300. He didn’t blow it on drugs or booze or Vegas. No, he bought a piano for my sister with my money. I love my sister and she was a fabulous pianist and singer, but I have never had $2,800 since. I think there might be some connection there. When I confronted him with the bank book which I had in my own hands, I told him I was looking for money to steal to go to the movies which I should not have to do because I have my own hard-earned money, a look of horror covered his face for once. For this crime, I was to receive the last beating I ever allowed him to give me. When I was caught smoking pot at age 15 and was sent to my room to wait “until your father gets home,” I blasted him dead in the eye the moment he opened the door. He had to wear a black eye for a week. Since I was a little kid, we had done that little dance routine. Go wait in your room until your father gets home! Those hours while I waited for him to come home knowing what was in store for me, a vicious beating that, if administered in 2014, would result in my dad being put under the damn jail, are the hours all my neuroses and psychoses were able to bloom and grow riotously as I stated at the two pictures on my wall: Jesus and JFK. Neither one of them ever stopped my dad from brutalizing me—and the One I now consider my Savior. Back then, he was an indifferent observer. The Creator of the universe and the Leader of the free world looked on, one with pity in his eyes, the other with a million-dollar smile. So I listened to John and Paul instead. To subject a child to this kind of psychological torture – the waiting game – to be followed by physical abuse of an extreme nature are techniques that have shaped my personality. The anticipation of severe physical pain administered by a man who was himself so badly beaten as a child that he had to be removed from his parents’ house was absolutely horrifying. He would go into a zone of pure, blissful, blind rage. One of these days you’re gonna thank me for this! Each of these words would be punctuated with a lash from the thick black leather belt. It’s a wonder he didn’t seriously hurt me. This is gonna turn you into a man! The next day I would be covered with pretty black, blue and green welts from the back of my knees to the top of my buttocks. I remember being fascinated by the yellows and purples my body could produce. As I said, if a teacher or another parent saw a child with these bruises in 2014, the perpetrator would be in a world of trouble with law enforcement, not to mention what the fellas on the cell block would do to him when he got sent to prison. Beating your own child is NOT considered a respectable crime by any stretch and, unless you are truly one bad hombre, you will experience the terror you used to dish out—and then some…
Throughout my childhood until early adolescence I probably received a dozen or so of these ritualistic thrashings and I would have to have done something above and beyond the pale of typical behavior. And I did do some wicked things from time to time, like the time my friends challenged me to throw a rock about 300 feet and it hit the little girl who lived next door. I didn’t actually mean to hit her, or maybe I did and I just thought it was too far. My father always said I had a great throwing arm and I do remember feeling a rush of exhilaration when the rock hit her on her left shoulder. That incident lead to one of the worst beatings I ever got, but not as bad as the time I stole an Average White Band album out of Woolworth’s when I was 12. I had no business stealing that album, but I had plenty of money and it took an act of Congress to receive any of it from my parents. The silent reproach of the shame and the layers of repressed rage that ravaged my very soul as a result of these dozen or so episodes have manifested themselves by my own acts of violence and by my lifelong struggle with addiction.
The hell of it is that my father was in many ways a great man. Although I believe they should have told me the truth about my beginnings, this man married a marked woman in 1961 when that term was actually used and he legally adopted me and changed my name to his last name. For the first six years of my life, I didn’t even know that my name was Mark Winnett, not Mark Norek. And I grew up thinking I was Polish, when in fact my real father was named Cunningham. When I was 13 my friend and I were rummaging through my dad’s glove compartment in his ’64 Ford Fairlane when I found one of those fancy books of matches they used to give away at weddings. Today you would be more likely to receive a nicotine patch as a momento, but in those days pro baseball players smoked in the dugout during games. Anyway, this book of matches celebrated the sacred union of Willard James Norek to Joanne Frances Winnett on December 3, 1961. But wait a minute, I was born in March of 1960. Somehow I managed to bury this troubling detail along with all the other atrocities, although my friend did state the glaringly obvious. You must have been adopted.
But I was always well fed and appropriately dressed. I was brought up; I didn’t just grow up. We were a church-going family and my mother taught me impeccable manners. As for her role in the beatings, I have to find her guilty of collusion and conspiracy. She knew exactly what was going on, but maybe she figured that since he was paying the bills and bringing up a stepson, I was an acceptable offering. Whatever the truth, that is a demon she must exorcise. And the same man who could inflict such searing pain and was the cause of so much terror was the one who took me to see the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots play. The same man who never missed one of my basketball games in high school was the same guy who, if he ever publicly displayed that aspect of his personality, would lose all the respect he enjoyed from everybody. When he died in December 1981, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy where he worked named a scholarship after him. He was a Korean War veteran and was buried with military honors. Interestingly, he never laid a hand on my five younger siblings – “his” kids, in other words. Thank the Lord. In a life filled with violence at home, in the military and in prison, I have never once spanked or otherwise physically assaulted a child. I am not the guy you want behind you in line when you slap your kid. My mother used to tell me never to hit girls, but she also told my sisters that you never hit a boy because he might hit you back. In this way, nobody ever hits anybody. How she could make such fine moral distinctions about physical violence while her husband was busy pummeling me every six months or so is one of those contradictions that characterize any such situation. Ambivalence will be my epitaph.
In spite of all this, I did manage to be a very successful student and an outstanding basketball player. I was definitely an over-achiever with iron-clad discipline. I was driven to be the best at whatever I did and I usually was in the upper echelon of whatever category was being judged. That’s why not being eligible for federal student aid was such a major blow. I was Ivy League material and was accepted at Brown and Dartmouth. I ended up at Bridgewater State located in the next town over from Middleborough with scholarship money I was awarded for perfect attendance during high school. I was absent a grand total of 8 times my whole twelve year educational career. The money lasted long enough to complete two full semesters, then it was game over as far as college was concerned.
It was during this period of time that the Iranian Hostage Crisis took place. I was unaware of all the information I provided at the opening of my piece with regard to the history between the United States and Iran. As far as I was concerned, this was an unprovoked terrorist act perpetrated by backwards savages who were simply jealous of America and all her prosperity. I did not know what the CIA did back in 1953, nor was I cognizant of Great Britain’s half-century of perverse profiteering at the expense of the Iranian people. I was out of school, permanently I thought. I was never afraid of hard work, but I only worked sporadically. I had a guy who was willing to teach me the art of stone masonry, but I blew him off. This is when my drinking and drugging became problematic. No longer was I a senior in high school where partying is accepted and tolerated. I had crossed that imaginary line between use and abuse. Now I was entering the territory of the alcoholic and/or junkie. Anybody with a substance abuse issue that began in his youth is destined for an early grave. In AA, they say jails, institutions or death are your destiny, but I have defied those odds. The Lord has seen fit to allow much turmoil and despair to pervade my life, but he has also put me in places and around people who need the kind of help I can offer. That’s how He does things. All things work together for the good…
My parents were really getting on my case about my lack of direction. Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town, waiting for someone or something to show me the way. These lyrics by Pink Floyd sum up my state of existence at that time. After several months of threatening to throw me out of the house unless I got a job or somehow got back into school, I couldn’t take it any more. Combined with the pressure from my folks to amount to something, I was taking the Iran thing quite personally. Every night we had to hear about how these beige devils had brazenly defied the United States and that they had no intention of returning the hostages. So I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by joining the Army. My parents would be off my ass and be proud of me as well AND I would be doing something for my country that I believed in. Although I scored off the charts on the aptitude test they give you, prompting my recruiter to suggest I go to Officer Candidate School, all I wanted to do was go to Iran as soon as possible and be in the thick of whatever action we decided to take against them. My recruiter assured me that if I went airborne infantry with the famous 82nd Airborne Division, I would see action if any were to be taken. That’s what I wanted to hear, so I signed up. It seemed as if I had solved all my existential dilemmas with one fell swoop. And I would be doing so by contributing to a cause I truly believed in.
The day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, the hostages were released unharmed. They were haggard and dehydrated, but they had not been tortured or badly physically abused. I was in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia at the time. There was a lot of cheering when we learned of the release of the embassy personnel being held for 444 days, but inwardly I was conflicted because now the reason for joining the Army no longer existed. I had no choice but to soldier on and hope we could find another action that required the presence of the 82nd. I finished basic, AIT and jump school at Fort Benning and was sent to Fort Bragg, NC, the home of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was a good soldier, but I had lost a lot of the momentum I had when I joined because that reason was now moot.
So there I was in the middle of the woods somewhere in North Carolina on a training exercise when a jeep from the base came into our A.O.. They were looking for me to inform me that my father had died and I was going home on emergency leave that night. They performed this duty without any emotion. It was as if they told me that I had guard duty that night. Needless to say, I was stunned. My mind was racing, but there was no finish line. What about my five younger siblings, ages 5–15? How’s my mother going to take care of them? When I went home on leave, my mother and I talked and decided it would be best if I were to seek a compassionate reassignment if possible, but if not, then I should arrange to have a Hardship Discharge so that I could go home and be the man of the family.
The closest Army base to Middleborough was Fort Devens and they did not need infantrymen, so I decided to go for the hardship discharge so that I could return home to help my mother with my brothers and sisters. I filed the appropriate paperwork (the backbone of the Army) for the hardship as soon as I returned from emergency leave only to learn that the 82nd was about to begin training for the largest peacetime airborne operation ever undertaken by the United States military. The operation was cooked up by the Joint Chiefs themselves and the idea was to see just how well we would do under actual combat conditions. Part of being a soldier is making personal sacrifices for the sake of the cause. I was told that my situation, as regrettable as it was, would have to wait until AFTER Operation Gallant Eagle was completed in April 1982. This meant that my mom was on her own for another four months at least because it would take time for the discharge request to be processed and acted upon. God only knows how long that would take. Anybody who has ever served in the Army knows what I’m talking about.
Although considered by the Joint Chiefs to be a resounding success, eight soldiers gave their lives on this mission. They say that only birdshit and fools fall out of the sky. Under the best of circumstances, jumping out of a perfectly operational aircraft is a tricky undertaking and about a million things can go wrong. The winds were gusting at over 50 mph in California’s Mojave Desert where the jump was to take place. Army protocol states that training jumps will not take place if the winds exceed 13 mph. This mission was to begin in North Carolina where we boarded our planes without our parachutes on and was not going to end until every last swinging Richard was on the ground in the Mojave Desert. The planes were to fly at extremely low altitudes as they would in combat to avoid enemy radar detection. This makes for a bumpy and turbulent ride and we had to do in-flight rigging. In-flight rigging meant that we would have to put on our parachutes while in flight. Talk about a tricky operation! A fully-loaded combat paratrooper has on his person about 80 extra pounds of weight. He has his parachute on his back. He has his M-16 in a case on the left side of his body from his armpit to his knee. He has his all but useless reserve parachute attached to his chest. (Combat jumps are conducted a mere 600 feet above ground; reserve parachutes cannot be deployed at less than 1,000 feet; you do the math.) And then he has his rucksack (that’s Army for bookbag) which can itself way upwards of 60 pounds. Add to all this ammunition, water and whatever extras you might have and it is an effort to stand up straight, let alone maneuver about in a moving aircraft that is hugging the contours of the earth to avoid radar. All you have to do is overlook one small clip, hook or snap and your chute will malfunction and you will crash and burn. It is a miracle that only eight men died that day. To the Joint Chiefs, the loss of only eight men in such adverse conditions meant that the 82nd was combat ready.
The first thing you do when you hit the ground is to collapse your chute by hitting one of the two quick release units located on either shoulder. If you fail to do this and it is windy, your chute will instantly fill up with air and the wind will take you on the ride of your life, or in this case, death. They found two soldiers a couple miles from the dropzone who had been dragged to their deaths over the unforgiving surface of the desert floor. Unfortunately, the coyotes had found them first. Two things stand out in my mind from this experience. When I exited the aircraft, the sun was rising and the way it reflected off the Rocky Mountains created a purple hue available only on the palette of the Almighty. I remember thinking of the line from “America the Beautiful” that gushes over “purple mountains majesty” and I understood where that lyric came from. After we jumped in to the Mojave, our mission was to conduct training exercises for the next two weeks. Even though we were always freezing, we all got sunburned and I remembered the line from “Oh, Suzanna” where it says “the sun so hot I froze to death”. Now that line made sense. Besides contemplating the origin of lyrics from obscure folk songs, the whole time we were in the Mojave my mind was preoccupied with what was happening back in Middleborough.
In order to accurately simulate combat conditions, we were not allowed to tell our family about Gallant Eagle. However, it was next to impossible to impose complete silence and enforce such secrecy on tens of thousands of men. In other words, everybody knew what was happening and we all told our families and friends about the upcoming grand mission. We didn’t know where we were going, but we knew the dates we would be gone. Gossip, or “poop” as it is known in the Army, travels at about the speed of light so our families knew that things had gone wrong on this jump and that several soldiers had perished. Once the word got back to Fort Bragg, which it did probably as soon as it was known, it spread around the base and shortly thereafter to the friends and families. Naturally, every mother of every soldier on that jump was worrying about her son and whether he was one of the casualties. My mother had just lost her husband unexpectedly four months earlier and was already a mess. Now she has to sit around for two weeks wondering if her oldest son, who was supposed to be there helping her raise the kids, was killed during a training mission. As soon as we got back to North Carolina, I began to pester my chain of command about getting my discharge in motion. When I approached my platoon sergeant the next day to remind him of his promise to prioritize my case when we got back from the Mojave, he told me that he caught his best friend’s head like a football in a foxhole in Vietnam after it had been hit by a bullet from an AK 47 and that if I couldn’t hack it, then pack it. At my wit’s end, I made one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life – and that’s saying something because my life has been characterized by squandered opportunities and poor decisions – and I went AWOL. And this is where my story really begins. Just as I could trace the tragedy on 9/11 to the actions the CIA took against Iran in 1953 which lead to the Ayatollah which lead to Al Queda which lead to 9/11, I can trace my homelessness in 2014 to a rash act in 1982. Little did I know that before 1982 ended, I would be incarcerated at MCI Walpole for a rape case in which I never touched or even spoke to the victim.
True to my word, I went AWOL and returned to Middleborough to help my mother. I fed her a line saying that they expedited my discharge because they never should have made me wait five months in the first place. That seemed plausible enough, so she accepted it at face value. Had she known I was AWOL, she would have become involved on that level and maybe we could have avoided what ended up happening. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. These are conditional terms that imply other roads could have been taken, but were not. The fact remains that I did not tell her the truth and two months later the MP’s showed up at the front door looking for me. They were accompanied by the local cops and it created quite a scene in my neighborhood. If we had sagebrush in Massachusetts, you could find it blowing down Main Street in Middleborough. Having MP’s and cops on Pearl Street was more excitement than Middleborough had scene since it turned 300 years old in 1969 and the governor came. I am one of those kind of people who succeed and/or fail with a flourish. Never do anything small.
The MP’s took me to Fort Dix, NJ and after two weeks I was unceremoniously discharged with a Chapter 10 “other than honorable”. Another flagrantly poor decision. A Chapter 10 discharge automatically disqualifies the recipient from VA benefits. After spending two weeks at the brig in Fort Dix I would have given my right arm to get the hell out of the Army. During that two week period I got into at least one fight every day. I was the only white guy on a 24 man unit. Need I say more? I have since had the discharge upgraded to an Honorable, but in order to be eligible for benefits you have to have served 24 months. In order to encourage people to enlist during the Vietnam War, the military enticed potential draftees to sign up by offering a full benefits package after only six months of service. Then in 1982 they changed eligibility requirements for VA benefits. Now a person has to serve 24 months in order to receive benefits. I served 21 months, so my discharge upgrade is essentially worthless. I had to thumb back to Middleborough from New Jersey.
And thus ended my brief but eventful career in the Army. I was an outstanding soldier who got railroaded because his father had passed away. Not once did I see a counselor during this time period. I did go AWOL, which I should not have done, but the Army should have expedited my paperwork and I certainly should not have been forced to participate in Operation Gallant Eagle. Another brick in the wall. I am currently involved with litigation against the VA to receive benefits.
And here’s where things got really bad. When I returned home after being at Fort Dix for those two weeks and thumbing home through New York city, the situation at my house had taken a dramatic turn. Since I had lied to my mother about my discharge and caused her embarrassment by having the cops and MP’s at her house, I was persona non grata. L’homme sans maison et pays maintenant. The man without a home or country now. So now I was officially homeless at the ripe old age of 22. I was kicked out of the Army and kicked out of my house and I really hadn’t done anything wrong other than going AWOL so I could help my mother. The military is a much kinder and gentler animal today. What happened to me in 1982 would not occur in 2014. They are infinitely more compassionate and sensitive to a soldier’s mental health these days.
When my mother would not let me back into the house upon my return from New Jersey, I had taken just about all I could take and I went on a bender for the ages. I began to drink and drug with a vengeance. Since it was mid-summer, I either slept outside or sneaked into our garage which had an upstairs with some old furniture. I actually made myself a comfortable little area up there and since I would wait until very late to go to my lair, my surreptitious activity went undetected until the next door neighbor snitched me out to my mother. That was a very poor choice on his part and one he lived to regret, but not for long. Seems that he was attacked as he was leaving the bar one night and sustained some extremely serious head trauma. A real tragedy. This guy had hated me since I was a little kid and had bided his time until he thought he landed the knockout blow. Funny how things work out. You pays your money and you makes your bet. Poor guy coulda been killed and I am sure he would have preferred to be dead afterwards. When you choose to get involved in your neighbor’s dirty laundry, you just never know what could happen. Blowback…
My college career was kaput. My experience in the Army was a complete disaster and ended in disgrace. I was homeless before they even used that term and I had yet to turn 23 years old. Four short years before, I was a high school senior with a bright future ahead of me. The options were endless for my ultimate success and then, one by one, everything I loved and cared about was gone and I felt my only option was to get high and stay high. Like everything else I used to love, I was an exceptional partier. I was a ticking time bomb who truly didn’t care if he lived or died. I had been brought up in the church, but I had lost my religion as well. Nothing really mattered to me except my next drink, pill, tab of acid, shot of cocaine, or what have you. I wasn’t picky. As long as it took me out of myself and blurred reality, I was all in. And I went around looking for fights. It is a wonder that I didn’t kill myself or somebody else during this period of my life. I had given up my faith, but apparently God hadn’t totally written me off.
This sorry state of affairs continued with no end in sight. And then it culminated with the event that has brought me to the brink of suicide, almost got me killed on countless occasions, and is the cause for my current sorry state of affairs. I said at the outset that I would tell you how I became homeless in 2012 because of something that took place in 1982 and inspired my title. Unforeseen consequences is not nearly an adequate term for what has transpired. Like the Bud Light commercial says, “Here we go!”
The day before Thanksgiving in 1982 I found myself with a buddy of mine riding around smoking pot and drinking beer. Nothing unusual about that. Middleborough is the second largest town in Massachusetts in terms of square mileage, much of it being cranberry bogs, however it has to be one of the best places on earth to ride around getting wasted. Miles and miles of bucolic backroads they seem to have built for the expressed purpose of providing us with places to go to get high.
Our plan was to spend the day and night partying then we were supposed to meet up with the rest of the crew at a local bar at 8:00 am the next morning to get primed for the Thanksgiving Day football game between Middleborough High and East Bridgewater High. Each year they would alternate locations and in 1982 it was in the Borough.
I can’t really call Paul, my associate that day, a friend, but he was a nice kid from a decent family who had kinda lost his way. He was not nearly as lost as I was, but he had yet to find a purpose for his existence. Paul had never even spoken a mean word to anybody. Everybody liked him. He was not an an all-state athlete like I had been. He was the equipment manager type with great school spirit, content to let jocks like me to get the glory. If he ever asked a girl to go out with him, which he did not, she would have told him that she didn’t like him in that way and would never want to hurt him and destroy their friendship. We all know the line: why can’t you just be happy being friends? To a kid trying to get laid, it is roughly translated as: you are an ugly geek I will use you for your car, but you will never get into my pants. And then after hanging out with you all night spending up all your resources and leaving you at crunch time to go with a guy who treats her like shit. Him you will fuck, leaving guys like Paul to handle their own problems with this month’s Playmate. Very similar to the “she has a great personality” line that no girl ever wants to hear about herself.
Paul and I had a great time that day. He had borrowed about 50 of his father’s Percocets that we were eating like Skittles and the combination of alcohol, good weed and Percs had put me right where I wanted to be: insensate. I can’t remember clearly most of the details of that day, but I do recall we had some very deep and heartfelt conversations about the lack of direction in both of our lives. I may have been an all-state athlete and a badass paratrooper, but inwardly I was a frightened and insecure mess and, although I never would have admitted it to Paul or anybody else for that matter, I was still a virgin just like him. We both vowed that we would get our respective shit together in 1983.
That night we went bar hopping around the local watering holes all the while steadily munching on Percs and drinking shots. We ended up at some dive when the most extraordinary thing took place. Paul picked up a girl—an honest-to-God flesh and blood female. I wasn’t even aware of his good fortune until it was time to leave as I was trying unsuccessfully to get my own date. Even though I was good looking, a blind girl on crack could tell I was…unstable, to put it mildly, and I had struck out. My disappointment was replaced with joy and awe at what Paul had accomplished. We found each other at last call and he introduced me to his new friend Suzanne. To the best of my recollection, this was the only time she and I exchanged words. She and Paul had already cooked up a plan for the rest of the evening. I was going to drive them to her house in Somerset about 20 miles away as the crow flies. Once we got there, they were going to adjourn to the bedroom while I would be free to crash on the couch. Sounded good to me. Plus she had all kinds of booze I could drink. Don’t threaten me with a good time, let’s ride to Somerset. The next morning we were going to still meet up with our crew at the Royal Café before the game.
As we were leaving the bar to go to Paul’s car, a fight took place in the parking lot right on top of Paul’s Cutlass Supreme. We recognized one of the combatants as a guy we both knew from around, named Russell. Russell was beating the living shit out of the other guy. To this day I don’t know who it was. One thing I do remember because it was so peculiar. Paul and Suzanne were both giggling as they watched the fight. The reason it stuck out in my mind is that she was dressed too nicely to be the type of girl who would stand around laughing as somebody was being so fiercely beaten. I had noticed how well she was dressed when Paul introduced us. And she seemed to be polite and rather a shy kind. She was not at all attractive, a “plain Jane” perhaps 40 pounds overweight. But this was Paul we were talking about. I was thrilled for him.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but Russell ended up in the front seat after somebody said the cops were coming. At this point in my life, I was no stranger to the cops. It seemed I was dealing with them on a nightly basis in some way or another. Paul and Suzanne were in the back seat. I was driving. Russell was screaming at me to haul ass, so off we went.
Russell was the type of kid I was not allowed to play with and the kind of teenager about whom parents would say, “You wanna end up like that kid Russell?” He came from a broken family. He lived in a filthy little trailer outside of town with his mother, who was a junkie. I have no idea who or what fathered him. Russell had been thrown out of the Middleborough public school system in the seventh grade for trying to stab the vice-principle. He was our age, but he had already done a few bids at Plymouth House of Correction. We listened to Pink Floyd, Russell listened to Black Sabbath and even had 666 tattooed on his arm. As pitiable as I had become, even I considered him to be bad news and to be avoided at all costs. And so here he was next to me at 2:00 am in Paul’s car covered in his victim’s blood screaming at me to go this way, then that way, then the other way. We ended up on a back road somewhere in Lakeville, a town between Middleborough and Somerset.
Once we were sure we were not being followed by the cops, I took inventory of Russell and I concluded that he was tripping on acid, drunk, and most likely high on heroin he got from his mother the junkie. He was beside him and coming from another dimension. I don’t think he even noticed Paul and the girl in the back seat until this point. Actually, we had only been driving for five minutes or so when he turned around and, even in his impaired state of mind, was shocked to see Paul with his arm around Suzanne. Seeing Paul with a female would cut through the foggiest buzz. He began to express his amazement at the unlikely duo in words I found to be funny at the time, but he quickly reverted to foul language and began to go places only he could access. When I voiced my concern, he told me shut the fuck up and drive or he’d make us all go off the road – a threat I had no doubt he was willing to carry out.
Exactly what he said and the order in which he said it is lost on me. I only knew I was wasted and he was killing my buzz. What had been a glorious, carefree day of partying and satisfying conversation with a kindred soul was rapidly turning into a nightmare courtesy of psycho Russell. He was totally focused on Paul and Suzanne and he wanted to see her perform oral sex on him. Poor Paul was scared out of his wits along with the now terrified Suzanne. I was driving and hoping for I don’t know what. I wanted no part of any of Russell’s rantings and I felt sorry for Paul and his date. I learned later that Paul and Suzanne got into the car after Russell did in the parking lot at the bar. I know she did not bargain for what happened that night, but you have to ask yourself why she would get into the car with three strange men, one of whom was covered in the blood of a man she just saw get the shit kicked out of him? Why Suzanne? Were you that horny or did you wanna step out on the wild side? I remember you laughing at the mayhem, girl, one of the few moments seared into my otherwise drug-addled brain?
No, she wasn’t asking for it. I am not a caveman. And no does mean no. I have never put my hands on a woman who did not want it there and, although I was a virgin then, I didn’t stay in that state of want for long. Perhaps because of this incident, my goal when I got out of prison was to bed as many woman as possible to prove to myself and to them that I was not some kind of weirdo sex freak. Amazingly, I began to get all kinds of attention from the ladies as soon as I got out on bail. I don’t who was sicker, me or them.
Finally, we came to a soft shoulder where I could pull the car off the road. Up until this moment, Russell’s abuse had been verbal. Granted he said some awfully filthy and degrading things, but they were just words. Nothing had turned physical. As I was pulling off the road, Russell turned around and snatched a gold chain off Suzanne’s neck. That was the only act of physical aggression I saw him commit that evening. I told him that I was walking and they were all on their own once we were stopped. I got out of the car and realized I did not know where I was and it was freezing. After all, it was late November and the temperature was in the low 30’s or upper 20’s I would assume. And I just couldn’t abandon Paul like that and leave him with Dr. Demento on acid. I had walked maybe a ¼ mile or so when I returned to the vehicle. Russell was still in the front seat fiddling with the radio. Paul and Suzanne were still in the back seat. He was fumbling with his zipper and she was quietly weeping. She was fully clothed and otherwise unharmed physically.
I walked around to the passenger side and told Russell that he could drive, my thought being that if he was driving, his mind would be on the road, not Paul and Suzanne in whom he had apparently now lost interest. So I got in and off we went with Russell driving. I made Paul climb over the seat to sit in the passenger side and I got into the back seat to try and calm Suzanne. Russell considered this to be an act of betrayal on my part and he began to threaten to drive us all off the road. Just then the blue lights appeared.
When we were arrested that night, I went to sleep thinking I was there for protective custody and would be released in the morning when I was sober. I had done that plenty of times over the past few months, so no big deal. In fact, I was relieved that the cops pulled us over before Russell could carry out his threat to drive us off the road. And since Suzanne had not been hurt, I almost fainted when I was charged with rape and kidnapping the next day. I never raped or kidnapped anybody! They charged all three of us with the same things, but my and Paul’s bail was $500. Russell’s was $50,000 which showed me the cops knew who was the culprit. Never in a million years did I think those charges would stick, but then something else happened that changed everything.
Anybody alive and cognizant in 1982 in southeastern Massachusetts will remember the Big Dan’s rape case that took place in New Bedford, only 20 minutes from Middleborough. Some fisherman fresh from a catch allegedly raped a woman on a pool table in a barroom. I ended up meeting those guys in prison and the whole thing was bullshit. The woman was a professional whore and was trying to steal their money and got caught. They roughed her up a little and she cried rape. These guys had thousands between them because they had just come in from a large haul, but they were Portuguese immigrants and never got a fair shake.
Big Dan’s made national and even international headlines and, not that anybody would ever want to be part of a rape case, this was definitely an inauspicious moment in time. And then while we were waiting to go to court, a rock band named Grand Slam (of all things) allegedly raped a groupie on their tour bus. Our case got lumped in with those two and my lawyer decided the best course of action was to plead guilty because the DA was offering me one year if I did and we were just not comfortable going in front of a jury while these other cases were “trending,” as we would say these days.