The Ohio Convention

by

03/03/2019

Neighborhood: Greenpoint, Port Authority, Woodside

I ran into Dad’s room after hearing my name called. “Take off your shoes,“ he said. I wondered what the heck was going to happen now. That morning my mom had told me that I would be going to Akron, Ohio with Dad to see the people who caused his nightmares and screaming. His war buddies. They were having a big party, and I would be part of it. 

Most ten-year old kids would be thrilled to go away. I should have been jumping for joy just to be getting off the block, but I was scared to be alone with him when he was drunk. It was bad enough having to travel the neighborhood with him, but now I was going to another state. I just couldn’t imagine what was going to happen. I would be the official babysitter of my dad, who was sure to get drunk and cause havoc in an unfamiliar place.  “What are you going to do, Dad?” 

He just smirked at me. I handed over the two brand new shoes he’d bought for me the day before in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was a store called Honikmans that was owned by a Jewish family. They sold everything. Dad bought a pair of pants and two shirts for himself; that’s when the owner, who helped him, pointed and said, “Don’t you think it’s time to get the boy a new pair of sneakers?” 

I looked down and saw my sock hanging out of the front of one. So that was how I got the two new shoes he held in his hand. 

He put down the beer he was drinking and picked up the can opener he had opened the beer with. He put it in one of the shoes. 

I thought, is he going to use my sneaker as a beer holder? It was small enough, and a can would fit in there easily. As far as I was concerned that would be fine. I hated those shoes anyway. Who the hell wore shoes? No kids I knew. I always had sneakers. Shoes were for weddings and funerals and school. It was summer.  

Next thing I saw, he was ripping out the innersoles of the shoes. He was destroying a perfectly new pair of shoes. I really didn’t care because I still had a perfectly good pair of ratty sneakers that were very comfortable. I liked them more than new shoes any day. “Here, Reidy, hold this.” He handed me the innersole. He went into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill, folded it, and put it into the shoe. He grabbed the innersole from me and covered it. “Put this on so it sticks back down on the shoe.” 

I did, and it stayed in place. He did the same thing with the next one. Instantly, the two-dollar shoes I was parading around in were forty-two dollar shoes. “Why did you do that, Dad?” “That’s just in case we get held up at gunpoint, we’ll have some money left.” I thought about that a second. It made sense. I started to walk out of the room, but turned back. “But what if he sees these shoes and wants them cause they’re so new?” Dad grabbed a cigarette and lit it. He exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Listen up. If some guy with a gun holds us up and thinks he can fit into your little shoes, then that guy is your size, or a midget, right?”  I nodded. “That means I’m just going to take the gun off of him and stick it deep in his ass and toss him off to the side and listen to the gun go off in his ass as he hits the ground, causing some internal bleeding. You know how that works, right?” He smiled at me. 

I nodded again because I didn’t want him to demonstrate on me. I backed away, grinning. “Oh, okay, Dad.” He had all the answers. No arguing with him. “Be careful where you take those off,” he said. “I will, Dad. I don’t want any midgets grabbing them. I’ll be on the lookout.” Early the next day, Mom gave me a small brown bag. “Your clothes are in there, Johnny. You have clean underwear in case you get in an accident, and I put a bathing suit in there. Your father says there is a pool. Put the whole thing right in his bag. That way he has to carry it.” She rubbed my head, then hugged and burped me. “You be a good boy now and watch your father. Call if anything unusual happens.” “Okay, Mom.” When we got to the Greyhound bus terminal, I made my first call. “Hello, Mom? Dad’s sharing a pint of whiskey with this black guy named Sam who drives the bus. They are drinking right out of the bottle and not letting any of the people on the bus. There is a line outside.” Mom said, ”You have your father call me at once. You get on that bus right now.” I got on the bus by pulling the door the way I saw Sam the driver do it. All the waiting people watched me. I walked to the back of the bus to the tune of some army song that both Sam and my dad were singing. “Dad, Mom said you gotta call her as soon as possible.” 

Dad looked at me. “Anyone die?”  “No.” Dad looked at Sam and said, “Fuck that shit, she ain’t ruining my weekend.” They both laughed really hard. 

And that’s the way it went. The driver tilted back his hat, threw a mint in his mouth and headed towards the front of the bus. We rode for free. Dad smiled as he showed me the tickets that the driver refused to take. 

It was an hour into the ride that I could see that my dad was drunk.He had his feet up on the seat in front of him, trying to get comfortable, and that was okay. It was when he started to hit the lady in front of him in the head with his feet that she went wild and the trouble started. 

She screamed, “Get your smelly feet off my goddamn head!” Dad yelled back, “You old whore, that’s where my feet belong and if you keep your mouth running, I’ll stick one of them up your ass.” This lady had really big hair. Dad flicked the ashes of his cigarette on her. Then he kicked her seat. “You dirty cunt.”   

She stood up and turned and looked me dead in the face while pointing to him. “Don’t point at a holy picture,” Dad yelled. 

I didn’t know what he meant by that, but she got real quiet for a minute. Then she said in a calm, threatening voice, “You put your feet on my head one more time, I’m telling the bus driver.” Now this got Dad to sit up. “Oh yeah?” Dad yelled. “My brother is driving this bus. Hey, Sam. This bitch wants to get off.” She walked up to the front and sat up by Sam. 

My dad drank with everyone he met. If that lady had been nice, Dad would have passed her the bottle. Dad put his big feet back on the now-empty seat in front of him while I hugged him and laid my head on his fat belly. I was terrified. I slept as best I could while Dad snored. We pulled into Akron, Ohio with the sun shining in the window of the bus to wake us. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. Dad wet his whistle with a quick slug of Canadian Club. He grabbed our bag from under the bus, and we took a cab to the hotel. A big banner outside said Welcome Veterans Tank Division. Checking into the hotel was exciting because right outside was a big pool with two kids in it. It was hot out. Maybe I wouldn’t have to stay with my dad the whole time. 

Dad paid at the front desk, and some guy carried our bag to the room. I felt good. The room overlooked the pool; this was sure better than the bus. 

As soon as the man who had carried our bag walked out, Dad said, “Okay, Reidy, listen. I have to find these guys. You need to unpack the suitcase.”  I jumped on the bed. Dad laughed. 

There was a big metal box on the table between the beds. “Hey Dad, what’s this?” I said. 

He pulled four quarters out of his pocket and laid them on the table next to the box. Then he turned on the TV. It was color. Cartoons were on. It was great. “Lay on that bed a minute.” I did. He put a quarter in the box and the whole bed started to vibrate. I was smiling from ear to ear. “Okay, that should keep you busy awhile. I’ll be back shortly.” He walked out. 

A second later he came back in. “Hey, if you want you can go swimming, okay?” I nodded yes. He left again. 

I lay on the bed, watching Tom and Jerry, until it stopped vibrating. I was going to put another quarter in when I noticed the suitcase. I jumped off the bed and started to unpack, putting Dad’s clothes in the three drawers on the left by his bed and my clothes in one drawer by my side. Then I put in some more quarters in the machine. When they ran out was when I first got that emptiness feeling. Since I was alone, I decided to go swimming. Looking out the window, I saw that the two kids were still in the pool. I put on the black bathing suit and grabbed the towel from the bathroom. In the mirror, I saw a sick shade of white, and in the black suit, I looked funny. I grabbed the key and walked down to the pool. 

The first thing I noticed was that there was no lifeguard. A sign said “No Children Alone.” An adult was in the pool with the two kids, so I made like I was with them. The only thing wrong with that was that they were in the deep side of the pool. 

From the shallow side, I slowly crept out to the deeper end. The kids were a girl my age and her older sister, and they could swim. I couldn’t. I was so busy looking and listening to them, with their accents, that I forgot what I was doing. When I put my foot on the ground, I went right under the water and had to grab the wall. 

I pulled myself out of the pool and thanked God I hadn’t drowned. I dried myself off and went back to the room. 

Since I was alone, I called home to tell Mom we got there alive and about the vibrating bed. There was still no sign of Dad, so I fell asleep on the bed and didn’t wake up until the next morning. That next morning Dad was in his boxers on top of the bedspread. Beer cans were all over the room. He was passed out and snoring. It looked like a party, and I’d missed it. The alarm clock said 9:00 a.m. Someone started banging on the door. He was screaming our last name. I looked out the window. He was an old guy like my dad. ”Hey Reidy, open up.” I opened the door.

”Hey, I’m Sandy.” He had red hair. “I’m your dad’s friend. Can I come in?” I opened the door wider. He walked in. ”He’s sleeping.” 

The guy walked right over to Dad and started to pull on his leg. Anyone who did that to my dad had to know him, or they would get beaten up. “Let’s go, Reidy. Up and at ‘em.” Holy shit, I thought, that’s what my Dad always says. Dad jumped up, rubbed his eyes, and they both screamed and hugged each other. Both were telling me how great the other was and how they owed each other their lives. “Nice meeting you,” Sandy said. Dad pointed out the window to the place next door and said that I should go over there in an hour. And if I was hungry, I could go to the Arby’s that was next door to the place where he’d be. I said okay because you could never say no to him when he was like this. I waited an hour and then went over to the building. It kind of looked like a bar from the outside, and had the bar smell when I opened the door. The walls were black velvet. There were flashing lights inside. I saw red leather seats. 

A blond-haired lady in a bathing suit quickly came up to me and knelt down. “Hi,” she said. “I’m looking for my Dad.” She smiled at me, and that was when I saw the bunny ears on her head. “What’s his name?” “John Reidy.” “Okay, wait here,” she said. As she walked away I noticed she had a cotton tail on her butt.  I thought that was funny. As I listened to the music that was playing, another lady came by, bent over and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Another one rubbed my face and said I was cute. Next thing I knew, they brought me into a back room with a big table. They all sat around me. One brought me a hamburger and a coke with a cherry. They all hugged and kissed me. One started playing tic-tac-toe with me and said I reminded her of her little boy. She said my dad was busy.

They reminded me of the ladies from the Stone’s Bar in my neighborhood who were always kissing and hugging me and telling me how much they loved me and wished they could take me home. I had a fun afternoon. When Dad came to get me, he was drunk again. We left and went back to the hotel. I was back in the bed, putting another quarter in the vibrating machine, when Dad said, “They’re fuckin’ crazy, Reidy. That guy Sandy, when I walked into his room, his wife was undressing. I started to leave, but Sandy said, ‘Hey John, stay. Honey, this is a friend and he saved my life.’ She undressed right in front of me. She was walking around nude. I couldn’t believe it.”

 I was learning so much on this convention trip. That night, after another collect phone call to my mother, she said to stop calling because we had just got the phone turned back on. She didn’t have any more money to pay the bill, and I was running it up. “Please stop calling, there’s nothing I can do. Just have a good time.” I couldn’t believe she had done it to me again. I never wanted to go on this trip with this madman in the first place. I hung up the phone, jumped on the vibration-less bed, dove my head into the pillow and cried in the empty room that was so familiar to me. How long would this nightmare continue? I wanted to be home. The next day Dad woke me and told me to put on my blue shirt and pants and my new forty-two dollar shoes. I had Dad call the hotel people and they brought over an ironing board. I ironed both our wrinkled shirts and pants. They came out perfect. We finished dressing, and Dad and I went to our first convention meeting with the guys. 

They were all going to assemble in a conference room in the first floor of the hotel at about 8:00 p.m. We never had dinner, but I’d eaten a roast beef sandwich at Arby’s.  When we showed up at the conference room, the meeting had already started. The lights were off and they were watching movies. Dad had been drinking all day. As soon as we walked in, Dad saw a guy he’d said was yellow. He told me the guy had shot himself in the hand to get out of serving in the war. They kept him, but he didn’t have to go to the front line with the rest of the tank guys. Dad said someone should put a bullet in his head. Some of the guys agreed with him. In the conference room, we sat in the back. I couldn’t see much because too many big guys were sitting in front of me. I was small and should have been up front. I liked watching war movies. 

Suddenly my Dad got up. “Reidy, wait here. Don’t move.” He walked to the front.

I heard him yelling and screaming. “Are you cocksuckers nuts? You no-good motherfuckers. I got my kid with me.” The lights went on and my Dad had the projector over his head. He threw it through the conference room window. Glass went flying everywhere. He grabbed the man operating the projector and knocked him out with one punch. Then Dad hit a second guy. Two punches, one to the stomach and one to the head, and the guy was down on the floor. He grabbed a third in a headlock and was beating his face in with uppercuts to the head. The guy’s whole face was swollen. He looked like a bowling ball when Dad stopped. 

It was chaos. There was pushing, shoving, screaming and yelling. I was hysterical. Five guys were holding my dad down. I thought they were trying to kill him, but they were just trying to calm the monster my dad had turned into. I was crying in the corner, afraid they would kill me next. The only guy to help me was Mr. Yellow. He took me out of there and brought me to our room and stayed with me. Mr. Yellow’s wife came to the room and brought me soda and potato chips. They sat with me on the bed and told me how great my Dad was. My Dad came back with a few guys. I thought they might kill Mr. Yellow and his wife. But all my Dad did was look at me and ask if I was okay. I nodded yes. He turned to Mr. Yellow and his wife and said, “Thanks for watching my son. That was very nice of you.”  I guess the Yellows didn’t feel comfortable, because they walked out of the room really fast.  

This was the last night of the convention. Dad left again with his friends, and I was stuck in the room trying to make a collect call. 

The operator said, “Sorry, they won’t accept the call.” I was now officially alone in the world. I started crying. The operator stayed on the phone with me for half an hour and talked with me about what had happened. She said that when people drink they do stupid things, and told me about her father. I felt much better when she hung up. Then I lay on the bed and cried again until the knocking on the door woke me up. 

It was morning. The hotel maid said she had to clean the room. Dad got up. He went to the drawers, pulled everything out, and threw it into the suitcase. He said all the guys he met on this trip were frauds and scumbags. The only real friend he ever had was Tomaski, who never made it. 

We took a cab to the Greyhound bus terminal. Dad was very quiet for the whole ride. Waiting for the bus, I sat on a chair next to my dad and chewed on a piece of gum. The spearmint taste made me feel better. It reminded me of Mom.  

He turned to me and said, “Listen, I have to go.” I said, “Go where?” He said, “You stay here. I have to go there for a minute.” He pointed to a dark section of the garage of the building we were in. “Please don’t go, don’t leave me.” “I’m not leaving you. Our bus will pull right up in front of us. It will say New York on it. You get on if I’m not back.” I started crying again. Dad looked really sick. He was as white as a ghost. I hugged him. “Please don’t die Dad, please.” He pushed me away and walked away. I started to follow him. He yelled, “Get back in that seat. If you follow me, I will give you the beating of your life.” I knew he meant it. So, I stayed put, and after a while he came back. His breath smelled like booze again, and he looked better. The bus pulled in. We got on it and rode back to New York. 

I promised God that I would never go on a trip with him again. 

The neighbors made fun of me because I had made so many collect calls, crying. Seems my sisters told them. I made like I didn’t care, but I did. 

I found out later, when I heard my dad talking at the bar, the films they were watching that night in Akron, Ohio were “kill films” and my dad was in them. They were killing Germans, and my dad was in the movie. I guess if I hadn’t been there, it would have been okay. I thought everything that had happened was somehow all my fault.

***

John Reidy has worked as a writer, director, and producer of award-winning independent films, and appeared in TV shows and major motion pictures. His most recent film is “The Signs of the Cross” 

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§ 6 Responses to “The Ohio Convention”

  • Danny says:

    Good read John , Queens in the 70s..

  • susan t. landry says:

    I read this story earlier today and it stuck with me. I found myself thinking about all the ways children accommodate to their alcoholic/damaged parents. Thank you for this. Vivid and real.

  • EileenMiller says:

    This was a sad story, I could imagine how soldiers
    Returning from war with sad memories could only rely on alcohol to try and forget. Somehow the children and wives get caught up in this very sad story
    and all become forgotten about. Prayers are in order for all who are involved!✝️❤️

  • Donna Bailey says:

    Akron, Ohio is the city where I was born and grew up in. So sorry to read you had such a horrible experience there. Not the sort of thing any child should have to go through.

  • Roseann says:

    Very good read really wanted more John always new you had the talent Keep writing want to see more love and good wishes by the way this is your cousin ❣️💙💙💙

  • Jeff Loeb says:

    I thought this was an extremely textured and quite wonderful story. I’m glad it held the perspective of the younger self throughout; There’s really no other way Reidy could have sustained and balanced such great balance between hilarity and pathos. Terrific.

§ Leave a Reply

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