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Life on the Corner: Joey, Part 1

The Polish Pope meets up with some old friends trying to decide what to do with Joey.
The Polish Pope meets up with some old friends trying to decide what to do with Joey.

Everyone on North Street knew Joey was a good kid. Whenever he walked by Sonny Fuze Box’s shop he would tap on the window to say hello. If his mother sent him to the Ace of Spades’ corner store for some milk and to play a few numbers, Ace knew he didn’t have to worry about Joey stealing a candy bar when his back was turned. Even Sr. Barnabas at St. John’s School liked Joey and only gave his ears a gentle twist if she caught him whispering to his neighbor in class. Not only was Joey a good kid, he was a smart kid, a student at Boston Latin School, but all the smarts in the world couldn’t get him what he really wanted, a date with beautiful Giuliana. Lovely, voluptuous, unattainable Giuliana, the object of Joey’s dreams, the girl who Joey had secretly loved since they were in first grade.  The problem was Giuliana only had eyes for Gino, big, strong, tough Gino who had a job, a car and money in his pocket. What more could a sixteen year old girl want?

Joey was the youngest of twelve kids and by the time he was conceived the gametes had run out of steam and he was kind of short, scrawny and had pimply skin. Not the kind of guy girls would find attractive. But Joey had the bravado that comes from desperation and he persisted in pursuing Giuliana.

Every Saturday evening Joey would wait on the corner of Moon St. to watch Gino drive by and pick up Giuliana wondering where they went. Joey’s imagination ran wild. He knew they probably went parking and made out. He once saw Gino’s car parked over at the Union Wharf and the windows were all steamed up so he figured something was going on in there. The one thing that obsessed him above all else was whether Gino and Giuliana had gone “all the way”?  Joey tortured himself thinking about it. The agonies of St. Sebastian were nothing compared to Joey’s writhings in bed imagining what Giuliana and Gino were doing. This was slightly awkward because he shared the bed with two of his older brothers who would kick him if his antics became too animated. Joey went so far as to ask his pal, Frankie, who worked in Burden’s Drug Store, if Gino bought any “Frenchies” but Frankie didn’t know since he only worked at the tamarindo counter. Asking Giuliana’s girlfriends was out of the question. If Gino found out Joey was prying into his personal affairs life would quickly get ugly and dangerous. Joey had to come with a better plan and, being smart, he did.

On Saturday afternoons confessions were held at Sacred Heart Church. Giuliana and her friends always went to purify their souls before Mass on Sunday. Joey figured he would sit in the back of the church and spy on Giuliana to see how long she spent in the confessional. If she was only in there for a short time she couldn’t have many sins. On the other hand, if she was in the booth for more than five minutes and got a long penance, Joey’s worst fears would be confirmed. It wasn’t a perfect plan but it was all he had and it just might work.

Confessions were held at Sacred Heart from 2 to 4 on Saturday afternoons. Listening to confessions of fifteen year old virgins and eighty five year old widows wasn’t a glamorous job and the pastor, Fr. Louis, usually assigned the task to one of the retired priests who lived in the rectory. That Saturday it was Fr. Remigio’s turn. He was a retired chaplain who served in the Italian army during World War II and was known to occasionally fall asleep while listening to the sins of the faithful. He also brought a nip or two of brandy with him but only to ease his arthritis and maintain proper blood pressure. Best of all, he gave the same penance for almost everything, three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary’s, which made him popular with all the penitents.

Joey arrived at the church fifteen minutes before confessions were supposed to start to choose a place where he could observe Giuliana without being conspicuous. The inside of the church was dark with the only light coming from the votive candles in front of the many statues. Joey sat in the back of the church and looked across at the confession booth. He noticed a small sign taped on the door and went over to inspect it. Fr. Remigio was ill and confessions were cancelled. His heart sank and Joey thought his plan was ruined. He was desperate. How could life be so cruel? Was there any way out of this dilemma?

To be continued in Part 2 …

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.

15 Replies to “Life on the Corner: Joey, Part 1

    1. Wow! Frenchies? Tamarindo? Burden’s Drug? What a great memory trip! Tamarindo Coke. A squirt of tamarind juice with Coke poured into a paper cone called a cup. Five cents. Fabuous on those hot, sticky, Summer Saturdays, on the way to steal boxes from the fruit peddlers on Cross Street…(to sell to the bocce players “down the park”, on Sunday mornings. A nickel each. (Pear boxes brought a premium. Stronger than orange boxes).
      Can’t wait for the exciting ending to Joey’s plight, or pleasure.

      1. …the boxes were converted to seats for the old timers to sit on. They were mostly hard working laborers who needed the rest, after a few rounds of bocce, Parodi cigars, and a few arguments about who cheated, (and what a louse he was in the old country). Best of friends, except on the bocce court. Then, mortal enemies. How sweet it was!

  1. Anyone who grew up on North Street will instantly recognize “Joey”. He was a real character but very funny. This story is (mostly) true.
    Surprise ending next week.

    1. OK Nick. I’ll give you that. It is a funny story. How about a compilation of all your stories…..would make a great book of the life in the North End, photos and all .

  2. I loved Burdens. I remember the Italian ice cream. I especially loved walking by on Sunday when all the Italian men were dressed in suits and hats. Who owned Burdens. Obviously not Italians. Does anyone know?

    1. The Spagnuolo brothers, Louie and Jerry. Two very nice men who were very active in the neighborhood. Louie’s daughter, Lucia, is married to Joe Giangrasso, the dentist on the corner of Hanover and Richmand Streets.

  3. Nick I can’t wait for the end to the story!
    Reading this was great I got visuals of
    Ace of Spades, my mother would give me a nickel a day and I would have to choose between playing the pinball machine or buying an eclair.
    And Burdens, my favorite was a pineapple drink w/ milk.
    I used to walk around the store and act suspicious and old “hawk eye” would follow me around.
    Simultaneously, my buddies would take what they needed.
    I hope the statute of limitations is up on theft!!
    Thanks for the memories!

    1. Hi Joe. I hear you’re hanging around with Peter Cat. these days. You must love those Cuban cigars.
      I always wondered how the Ace of Spades got his nickname. I asked my uncle who told me it was because he was short, squat and dark, just like the real Ace of Spades. He was a great guy. Where was his store on North Street?

  4. I’ll never forget the night that “Blouser” Mike was using one of the phones in the back of Burden’s. He was so engrossed in snake charming the girl he was speaking to that he didn’t realize & neither did anyone working there that they locked him in the store when they closed still on the phone.He had to call the cops I think their phone # was DE 8- 1212 Finally the cops from the old Station 1 & rescued him. Now I knew a few other characters & desperado’s who if they found themselves locked in a pharmacy the story would have had a much different outcome.

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