We first met when his mother, a teacher of mine, enrolled her ex-reform school (borstal
for my abroadie buds) son in my suburban Washington, DC high school and we became fast friends. He was smart, athletic, involved in H.S. theatre and best of all, kind of edgy. We never dated but were extremely close and loyal friends and while we kept tabs on one another in those years just after school, we had lost touch by the time we were in our mid 20s and I was back in England. He stuck with his acting and when I last saw him, in the early 70s, he was on his way to Australia with a touring company of Hair
which I always found interesting since he never had that much on his head. I remember him looking at me like I was a complete dolt when I said something like, "You? Hair? Really?" He probably said, "Fuck you, too. I'll wear a wig you moron." Not long after that he took off.
But back to high school. One little story of our friendship.
Picture a huge suburan high school; too big even to have a freshman class. Too big to have any architectural style, it was thrown together quickly in the early 60s and by the time we graduated in '66, even more schools had been built in the area. There were just too damned many of us; just like today. We started as sophomores and there were over 800 in our graduating class. Baby BOOM action. Just trying to shift feed this enormous number of starving kids was a logistic problem that was only solved by having the youngest students eat lunch at 10:30 AM, next group at 10:55 and so on, until we worldy seniors were allowed in, so hungry we could eat our arms, at 11:55. Jon, for some inexplicable reason given his shady past, was a hall monitor. On most days, his particular duty entailed sitting outside the door of the lunchroom in his letter jacket, chair tipped dangerously back and explaining to anyone who wanted to leave that they couldn't (until 12:25) unless it was a, you know, bathroom emergency and then he gave you a hall pass. And that's where he was that day as I headed out of the lunchroom on my way to the girls' room, tears welling in my eyes and mashed potato encrusted peas in my hair.
I remember him looking at me and then sitting up quickly, his folding chair clanging to the floor. He wanted to know what happened...everything, no matter how stupid it sounded. And to start with, why the hell did I have food in my hair. I started the story somewhere in the middle, but he wanted still more background. Why would they do that, Linda, why? I said something like, "You think I threw food first? Are you nuts?" In that massive lunchroom, everyone had a table, unassigned but common knowledge that it was their's and thinking back, it seemed that most tables were given the name of the most dominant personality or what they were involved in. Athletes sat at the jocks' tables, thespians sat at the actors' tables, etc. Although I wasn't involved in high school theatre, I sat with the thespians, an honorary member due to my routine histrionics about everything, no doubt. So my tormenters were all sitting at Sammy's table. Sammy Carbonera's table. Why would Carbonera's friends throw food at me Jon repeatedly asked. Where was Sammy when this was happening? And at first I had no answers. While Sammy was sort of a hood, he had never been anything but super polite to me and while there had been some rumor a few weeks before that he was going to ask me to the Winter Wonderland Dance and I can remember being completely shocked that he would even think of asking me, arrogant little heifer that I was. Anyway, as I was giving Jonny the background, it dawned on me that his friends were lobbing food at my table because somehow (my gabbing no doubt) word had gotten back to them about my bitchy reaction to the idea that Sammy would invite me out. To this day, I feel badly that I had hurt a perfectly nice kid's feelings. But to Jon, rejection was no excuse for throwing food at a girl.
I knew that Jon was a loose cannon and that the athletes and hoods alike gave him a wide berth. Nobody messed with him. He was nice, but there was a side of him that was different. Even to me it seemed that this was a guy who had been itching for a good fight for the three years he'd been at my school. The predictability and safety of suburban living was making him squirrely... something I'd noticed whenever we'd gone out as a big group. Strangers (kids from other schools) might look our way and he always had that "You lookin' at me? What the hell are you lookin' at? Stop lookin' at her or I'll beat you up," ready to rumble look about him. We all felt pretty safe when Jon was with us.
Jon threw his jacket on the ground and quickly made his way into the lunchroom, fists clenched at his side. I was half running behind him, yammering on about it really wasn't a big deal and c'mon Jon, stop, you don't need to do anything. He never once turned around, but kept going, his eyes on the target table. The three miscreants were still there, two of them on one side, not facing us and one whose eyes definitely widened as Jon approached. He knocked that kid off his chair in one swipe, leaned across the table and with a fork he grabbed on the tray, stuck it under one kid's chin while bunching the kids shirt in other fist. Slight pressures from the fork forced the boy up to a standing position. Jon only said, "Did you throw food at her?" nodding towards me. I was crying and asking him to stop and every kid in the cafeteria was by this time crowding around the action and yelling and whistling and screaming "Fight, fight, fight. " The boy nodded his head to the affirmative and as he went to say something, Jon punched him once and then in one fluid movement upended the table spilling the trays of leftover food and milk all over the two kids.
And then there was silence. Mr. Ward, the vice-principal made his way towards us. Within five minutes Jon was in his office, I was in another office and the three food tossers were separated and in guidance counselor's offices. Upshot: Jon was suspended for three days, the tossers were out for two days and for inciting a near riot, I was out for one day. My mother and I appealed and it was reduced to a half-day sentence. Bastards.
After not hearing from him for decades, he'd called me six years ago when I had some health challenges. Then when we moved out west, our friendship was revived. Every now and then I'd see him on TV shows or movies and was glad he'd been able to do what he wanted. But some things don't change. We had a party last Saturday night and seventy people came, including Jon and his beautiful (much younger but not so young that you feel uncomfortable) wife. My husband recounted an exchange that occurred when he introduced Jon to a neighbor of ours. The neighbor asked Jon what he did and when Jon replied that he was an actor, this neighbor rudely said, "Dime a dozen." Jon replied (according to my husband who never exaggerates or lies), "Well, I'm not really an actor, I'm a boxer and I'm going to punch your fucking lights out." The neighbor looked suitably shocked and then Jon smoothly said, "No, no, I'm Jon _______, pleased to meet you." And the moment was quickly over, the neighbor sidled away and Jon grinned.
Later that evening I overheard him asking some friends if I'd ever told them the story of how he beat someone up, coming to my defense.