by Dan Senn

Jack was a criminal
from the start
who became my friend
in the fourth grade,
during the terror
of Miss Ida’s reign.
What attracted
Jack to me,
for it was not
the other way around,
was that I had
boldly walked out
of Miss Ida’s class
and then
to the edge of town,
at age 9,
where JFK’s sister lived,
and my mother labored.
It had been
a break down.
I was breaking down,
as I ran upset
three miles to
where my mother,
as big as the muscly
Miss Ida,
could save me.

As I approached
the Lutheran home
on the gravel road
‘long side the river rapids,
two bouncing inmates
spilled down
the terraced lawn,
shoe laces held
between their finger tips.

They had come
to tie me up
and take me inside.

I convinced them,
one wearing a
football helmet,
that I would go
and didn’t need to be tied,
to their ward attendant,
nurse Ratchet,
who eventually
telephoned my mother
in the next building.

The next day
I went back
to a timid teacher
who patiently awaited
my next infraction.

A never ending hell.

I was raised a Baptist,
before the Baptos
took over the earth,
rendering me
a walking freak
in Miss Ida’s class
at Webster Elementary.

Not allowed to dance
in gym class,
go to movies
on weekends,
or abide curse words
of any variation,
these, my crimes,
I was a pretty
young lad to boot
and played ball
games well just
making things worse.

The angry Miss Ida,
would say things like
instead of “helicopter”
while staring
straight at me.

She would avoid
all elegant gestures
lest she lapse
into a polka,
the considerate bitch.
Even so,
cut from the same cloth,
Jack got on well
with Miss Ida,

but was enchanted more
by adventure,
the kind found
in Mark Twain’s books
and my bold
act of resistance
had a qualified me
for friendship.

Jack wanted to know
the details
of my “jail break”
“my escape from the cops”
and how the
“loonies had grabbed me.”

And so,
we became pals,
with me often going
to his house
where his fancy,
nice Mom
cooked fancy meals,
like hash,
on fancy plates
with matching silverware,
and cloth napkins
perfectly ironed.
Where his Dad,
with a Tom Waits voice,
missing two fingers,
rolled cigarettes
like the hobos
down by the railroad
tracks— to whom
I was eventually introduced.

already in the 4th grade
was a well read criminal.
He knew all about
the Civil War
and Confederate soldiers.
How they screamed
like indians to scare
the crap
outa the Yankees.
He told me everything
and it was all
new to me,
this world
of cigarettes,
sneaking out at night,
swigging pretend whisky,
wearing soldier hats,
peeping in windows,
and breaking into houses
to steal,
as Jack said,
what others had
already stolen.

What’s not to like?

Once, about midnight
I put a ladder
to his 2nd floor window
on Octagon Hill,
and soon
we were lifting
the security fence
around the old
silo-like water tower.
Climbing to the top,
50-60-70 feet up
with nothing to grab
on the slippery dome,
I was frightened
to death
as he rejoiced
like a Jack Pot winner
at the glow
of Milwaukee
50 miles away.

For him, such things
were notches
in his Civil War pistol.
For me,
they were things
to be hidden,
from my Mom & Dad.

Jack loved
Beattle tunes
singing “Twist & Shout”,
head bobbing
like Paul McCartney
from a brown 45 record
player in his bed.
He loved the Confederates
wore a grey Rebel cap
leaving me to cheer for the Blue Coats
wearing Yankee cap
he insisted I buy.

In ’64,
when Jack and I were 13,
my parents,
who didn’t know the half it,
invited him on vacation
with the family to the
New York World’s Fair
of which we saw little,
Jack and I
would sneak off
on the subway
to Manhattan
for adventure,
to see naked lady movies,
and peep shows.

Jack was often polite,
a book reader,
a good athlete, but
once back in Wisconsin
he tired of me,
thank God,
started drinking for real,
taking bigger risks,
and, sure enough, soon
ended up in reform school
… and then plain old jail.
When I saw him,
just after graduating
from high school
his eyes
were so glazed over
it scared me.

Years later,
after I started
teaching at University,
was married
and had kids,
Jack showed up
on my porch
in Illinois
with a degree
in literature,
he said,
from a school in Florida
and then
stayed a few days.

He was driving
an old silver Volvo,
looked good
spoke well
and seemed fine
until one day
I came into the TV room
where he’d been
camped out
and was packing
his things.

On top of his luggage
was a 45 caliber
hand gun
as big as Nathan
Bedford Forest’s.
That I was there,
he didn’t care
as he checked the chamber
to see if it was loaded
and then
he took a capsule
from his pocket,
broke it in half
and sucked up
the white contents
one nostril at a time
licking the up
the leftovers
telling me
“It’s vitamins”
and then
scooted out the door
pistol at his waste,
roller bag in tow,
never looking back.

Don’t think Jack
had a conscience.

DS 011519
ęDan Senn 2019