May 2, 2005

Now here’s a subject I’ve probably been avoiding for years. My father used to say that “when poverty comes in the door, love goes out the window” so it’s no big surprise that love was a rarely, if ever, uttered word at 191 Ege Avenue. 191 was the address of the house of my youth in Jersey City and it seemed normal enough. Of course there isn’t any personal history to compare it with. It didn’t seem especially violent although Dad certainly didn’t spare the rod, actually, in his case it was the belt or, on occasion, the rope with knots tied in it. As I remember it, Saturday mornings were the most likely beating times. Early morning hangovers don’t mix real well with noisy kids.

There was an ever increasing population in this little house. There were 3 or 4 of us in addition to Mom and Dad when we moved in around 1946 and by 1960 there were 8 and money was an even bigger problem. Dad was the breadwinner and there was never enough bread which probably bolstered his belief that he wasn’t good enough. This belief probably made him angry and caused him to rarely have a good word to say about anyone. He had some pet names for most of us as we were growing up; mine was “the sneak and the liar” and I became very good at both. Our dinner conversations usually involved skewering some neighbor or ethnic group. I suppose we labored under the misapprehension that said if we declared no one to be any good we’d feel better about ourselves.

As I look back on those days it becomes more and more clear that this “normal home” was just as crazy as the craziest ones I’ve heard of. There wasn’t any real violence, Dad didn’t beat Mom, but there was much yelling and put downs aplenty. After all, “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”. The craziness at 191 was more subtle. It was the name calling and the walking on eggs that set me up for the fears that drove me for many years.

I came out of this home with the absolute knowledge that if I made enough money everything else would be fine, actually there was nothing else. Money would do it. Just as the Nuns in Grammar School who taught us the 10 Commandments of God and the 6 Commandments of The Church quietly imparted the more absolute truth that sex was the only real sin, Dad taught me that money was the only answer. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be around people with money. Dad despised Alfred Marshello who was a Funeral Director on our street and I thought he was cool. He drove only Cadillacs and once gave me a ride in a totally restored Model-A Ford that he owned. Henry Wotanowski owned a printing company and was the richest man on our street. I’m in the printing business and I love automobiles. Coincidence, who knows?

I remember Dad kowtowing to people with money while declaring them no good behind their backs. I’ve done the same thing and I still do sometimes. I’m not blaming Dad for these behaviors, they’re mine and I’m doing what I can to be rid of them. Actually, this kind of writing has always been the fastest road to improvement for me.

Dad was taught the power of money by his parents. His father, Pop McGee, owned a tavern in Jersey City and frequently drank away the profits before caring for his family of seven children. Dad’s mother, Mom McGee, would send Dad down to the tavern on covert missions to get the money and bring it home where, as I understand it, she also imbibed beyond the norm. Dad’s father earned enough to properly support his family but he chose to drink first and deal with his responsibilities later. As a result, Dad wore hand-me-downs that were many sizes too big for him and his hair was cut amateurishly if at all. His appearance caused his school mates to ridicule him unmercifully so he wound up angrily convinced that he was inferior.

Posted April 24, 2007



I’m so glad to see you as a netizen of the blogosphere. You’ve got a great message to get out, and this is a fine way to do it.

I’ll recommend people.


Funny – I always thought my family had lots of money, all we needed….

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