The morning before Father’s Day, my brother and I rode our bicycles to McCann’s Gift Shop. The store carried a brass shaving kit with our old man’s initials embossed on the mahogany case. We went fifty-fifty on the gift and engraving — an idea endorsed by our mother.
Mama Bear raised the bar and demanded we start acting like grownups instead of children. By then, the man of the house had started getting on our nerves. The uptick in chores and expectations made us wonder if a shaving set was worth the trouble and money.
At thirteen and fourteen, we were wise guys. Sneaking beers, smoking weed, and skipping church. Raised Roman Catholic, my brother and I were required to go to mass. A house rule besides cutting the grass, taking out the garbage and recyclables.
On Sunday mornings we’d hide in the woods counting down the minutes. Other times we’d flag a bus to the pool hall. Church-smirch.
I don’t recall discussing it, but we decided to hit McCann’s on the way home. With a full afternoon, who wanted to hump a Father’s Day gift around?
That’s when we tilted our handle bars and glided the bikes towards the meadows and railroad tracks. The dark side of town. Where the bad kids lived.
In minutes we rambled over the wooden planks of the crossing. On one side, factories, cattails, and a turnpike overpass. On the other, Jasmine Court. Garden apartments that looked like army barracks.
Jasmine Court was better than HBO or those lame reality shows. Between the tenants raising hell and the cops rolling in to clamp things down, Jasmine Court had it all: Danger, dysfunction, and tough breaks.
Drug dens, poker tournaments, and underground dog fights. Bedrooms and storage space hiding stolen property. Living rooms equipped with pirate cable, hot stereos and flat screens. Whenever the police showed up, you got your money’s worth.
Special ops in motion, like an action movie. Battering rams, raids, and riot gear. Squad cars and SUVs answering fisticuffs, a barricaded psycho, a disturbed soul threatening to jump off a roof. Various mayhem, as mobile news crews arrived and jockeyed for footage.
The cops refused to back down and always won. Hauling off the trouble to jail or the mental hospital. Jasmine Court had the highest TV ratings and ‘evaluations’ in the county per capita. I really didn’t know if that’s true, but I’d bet the ranch and that’s no fib.
And the best part? We weren’t supposed to be there. Jasmine Court remained off-limits. My brother and I were expected to rat each other out for breaking this rule. Thick as thieves, we were a tight team.
Too daring to pass up, we had to come. To find our friends and classmates. To see what mischief Jasmine Court had in store.
Breaking windows, blowing things up, and hopping the trains. These kids were nuts. Most, beyond redemption.
We’d never find out how they spent Father’s Day at Jasmine Court. We had plans to celebrate the holiday as a family. Morning mass and reservations at a restaurant. We’d skip dessert and return home for cake, coffee, and gifts.
Most of the families in Jasmine Court were broken. Missing fathers who were on the lam, in prison, or worked the night shift. The rest were bookies, black market dealers, and other scammers gaming the system.
Kevin Kilroy’s father was around. A short guy who wore a wife-beater tank top and drank Red, White, and Blue Beer — a poor man’s Pabst Blue Ribbon. Kevin always called him a ‘pigeon’.
At the vacant rail yard, the security guard approached us. We knew Tony from our neighborhood. An older guy who lived around the corner with his wife.
“Does your father know you’re hangin’ around with this kid?” Tony asked in earshot of Kevin.
“Mind your own business, shit for brains,” Kevin told Tony. Tony looked over at my brother and I shaking his head. We shrugged our shoulders and followed Kevin to the next location.
A downer of a day fueled by the nuclear heat. We should have went to the town pool instead. Our family had badges while Jasmine Court ran its course. Our parents and Tony were right — we didn’t belong here.
Kevin brought us back for soft drinks, treating the gang to knock-off cola. He tossed one each to my brother and I. We thanked him and popped the tabs.
Mr. Kilroy followed Kevin outside and said something I couldn’t make out. It didn’t seem sarcastic since I knew the tone from my own father.
Kevin guzzled and drained his soda in one swig. He crushed the can and flung it towards a trash barrel. He belched and walked towards his father.
Kevin got in Mr. Kilroy’s face and shoved him. As Mr. Kilroy stumbled, Kevin raised his fists. Crouched and shuffling in a boxing stance, Kevin sprang, unloading a flurry of haymakers and uppercuts on Mr. Kilroy’s mug. Out-matched and dwarfed, Mr. Kilroy couldn’t block the assault nor fight back.
My brother and I went from bored to disbelief in a nanosecond as Kevin pummeled his father. Mr. Kilroy crumpled to the asphalt, forming a fetal position. Blood leaked from his mouth as he waved his hands in defeat.
Kevin stalked his father, daring him to get up. That’s when Joe Coroza from the next door apartment leaped onto the shared landing.
“What’s the matter with you? That’s your father!” Joe hollered.
“Call the cops, Joe. I can’t control him anymore,” Mr. Kilroy pleaded as he wept.
“You call the cops old man, I’ll kick your ass too,” Kevin told Joe as he stepped towards a guy smaller than Mr. Kilroy.
A mystified Joe held his ground, calling out to see that Mr. Kilroy was okay. Mr. Kilroy patted his bloody lip with one hand, wiped his tears and sweat with the other. Dazed and bruised, a jinxed Mr. Kilroy stayed silent.
My brother and I remained in shock, stunned by this freak of nature. A man-child with the strength and savagery to take apart his father and challenge any adult who stepped in his way.
Kevin turned towards my brother and I as if we were next. His bestial stare backed us up. The warning shot to never cross these tracks again.
We boarded our bikes and pedaled off. My brother and I never discussed what we witnessed that day. Too sad and depressing to share — even amongst ourselves.
Instead, we hightailed it to McCann’s Giftware to pay the balance on that shaving kit. Mr. McCann showed off the engraving. Holding the mahogany case like a piece from a pharaoh’s exhibit.
He then handed the case to an assistant at the wrapping station. We paid the rest in cash and left the store. No detours this time. Straight home to make peace with our parents and count our blessings.