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Posts Tagged ‘drinking’

Recently I was shopping at South Shore Plaza and decided to visit the restroom to take a peek in the mirror and check out how I looked. Hey, even mature guys like me must look presentable when cruising the mall. Of course, none of the young ladies that I’m hoping to impress are interested in checking out the guys with graying temples, shapeless butts and sagging jowls anyway.

As I was leaving the restroom an older gentleman who was standing nearby, grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, smiled and asked how I was doing.

Now believe me, the last thing I want to do when I’m in a mall restroom is converse with a stranger, particularly when he’s smiling and flashing his pearly whites. Call me old fashioned but there are certain rules that must be adhered to while using a public restroom and smiling and chatting are gestures almost universally frowned upon. In fairness to my would be conversationalist, it was a warm smile and certainly not threatening in any manner.

The man smiled and said “think hard” and so I did as he suggested. My mind raced as I searched for the identity of this stranger because the more I scrutinized the man’s face the more familiar he looked. Since I had spent most of my life in Charlestown, and had relatively few acquaintances in the vicinity of the Plaza I assumed the man was from my old neighborhood.

However, earlier in my career I had worked as a jail guard and often encountered former prisoners on the street. Consequently, I always exercise extreme caution when “bumping” into strangers who recognize me. Not knowing what to say and trying to buy time, I blurted out “Charlestown” and the stranger smiled saying “that’s right, Charlestown, its Mr. Avery”.

No sooner had the words left the man’s mouth then my thoughts drifted back over thirty years earlier to Charlestown High and the life altering advice that our guidance counselor, Mr. Avery had offered during a personally challenging time. Seventeen years old, hopelessly in lust with a young lady from one of my classrooms and wondering where life would take me following graduation.

Sure I had signed up for the draft but I didn’t really want to go to Vietnam because several of my neighbors had shipped out and returned home in body bags to grieving friends and family members. Hell, I had barely left the confines of the Bunker Hill housing projects and rarely ventured beyond Charlestown never mind fight in a war light years away from home.

No one in my family had ever attended college or even contemplated doing so leading me to believe that I was destined to follow their lead. Given my personal circumstances there was no reason for me to even remotely consider the possibility of furthering my education. Then my friends and I were having way too much fun hanging on “Dope Corner”, drinking in the project hallways and running away from the cops whenever the neighbors “ratted” us out.

I figured I could always find a decent job and make a respectable living if push came to shove. I just wasn’t in any great rush to be shoved.

I remembered how Mr. Avery and I had discussed personal issues and talked about my going to college and leaving welfare and the projects behind. Years later, my mother would often remind me of how proud she was that I had graduated from college, earned a Master’s and became the first member of her family to obtain a driver’s license and own a home.

A guidance counselor’s charge is to help students to raise their self esteem, gravitate toward their goals and discuss and by extension reduce unpleasant feelings associated with their problems. Guidance counselors, or at least the good ones are supposed to help us labor through those awkward teenage years.

Guidance counselors play an integral role in the success of the students and in their interactions with teachers, classmates and parents as they wend their way through seemingly endless school years en route to adulthood. Mr. Avery was an incredibly concerned and compassionate counselor and all the kids had great respect and admiration for him.

Mr. Avery and I left the restroom and he introduced me to his wife whom he met when they were in the seventh grade. We talked about my family and job and discussed the whereabouts of several of my former classmates including those long deceased or serving lengthy prison sentences.

I told Mrs. Avery how her husband had influenced my life greatly and how much I appreciated his help and guidance. Mr. Avery and I shook hands and parted company knowing that we might never meet again. I thanked my friend for remembering me so many years later and for breaking the rules about smiling in the men’s room and for taking the time to stop and talk with me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Avery couldn’t save all of us but that never stopped him from trying. I know that my classmates echo my sentiments and appreciation for his dedication to an often thankless job and for guiding us when we needed help the most

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By David Flanagan

There he was, propped up against the dark, rusty, cold metal stairwell on the second floor of 160 Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown’s Bunker Hill housing projects. “Davey, can you help me? Can you take me home?. I looked and realized that it was Jim, one of my neighbors, father to several of my friends. Jim, who must have been in his 30’s or 40 tops, was lying there, legless, totally out of it, less than a quarter mile away from his apartment, his wife and five kids. What does he want with me, I thought?

“Davey”, he cried out. I looked at his hair, which seemed to be desperately trying to escape from under his scalley cap, his sun browned, wrinkled face and tired eyes trying to focus on me. “What do you want, Jim?” I asked, more irritated than patient at his calling me. I felt bad for Jim. This wasn’t the first time that I had seen him, legless, filthy, roasting under a fog of alcohol, asking for some change, a handout, a little conversation perhaps.

It seemed that all Jim wanted from me this time was a lift home. Except in this case, a lift home would be one traveled upon the shoulder of an embarrassed, shy twelve year old. “Come on Jim” I said and helped him from the stairwell. “Put your arm around my shoulder Jim, you’re heavy” Embarrassed, I prayed to God: please don’t let anyone see us limping along or they’ll think he’s my father.

I felt a thousand eyes upon us as we approached Carney Court. Dozens of kids playing out in the warm, summer sun. How could I have thought that our journey would go unnoticed. Stumbling along, moving much slower than I could bear, our trip lasted a lifetime. What if his kids see us, after all Billy and I shared a class at the Warren Prescott and brother Bobby was also a friend. Please, God let this ordeal be over soon.

As we walked across O’Reilly Way, Jim’s arm slipped from my shoulder and we almost fell into the street. My grip held, I propped Jim up and we continued, knowing that relief was only several hundred feet away. But, soon I could see Billy and he saw us.

My mind soaked up the look on Billy’s face with each step as his father and I drew closer, walking arm and arm toward him and our friends. Billy walked over to us and said “thanks Dave” and without saying a word to his father, relieved me of my burden and my shame. I walked away, head down, embarrassed about being seen with Jim and having to deliver him to his son, my friend in that condition. My shame and embarrassment could only have paled in comparison to that felt by Billy and his family.

Over the next few years there would be many other episodes involving Jim and his losing battles with the bottle and self-respect. Battles where there were clearly no winners, only losers. Jim passed away several years later from cirrhosis, but his pride, his will and his family’s hopes died long before he did. Several of Jim’s children ended up involved in violent crimes and were imprisoned in various prisons across the US.

I wonder how different things might have been if Jim had been able to hold a job, behave like a husband and father should, find his way home and win his battle with the bottle. The losing battle that Jim and his family waged against alcohol was fought by many of us in the projects. Unfortunately for Jim and his family, their losing battle with alcohol was a very public one with tragic consequences. For some the battle was far less public but in many cases the results no less tragic.

The story above is true but the names have been changed to maintain privacy and will never be revealed.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/dflan14

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