As a kid I loved Halloween and I had great times filling up socks with chalk dust in order to whack my friends all over their hair, heads and bodies; and especially those girls who would scream bloody murder if they got even a little bit of chalk dust on themselves.

What fun!

Shaving cream was fun too. Just spread it all over everybody.

Obviously cans of shaving cream had to be stolen from your father’s personal stash and many of us just couldn’t get our hands on some, or we were afraid to, because fathers in that time and place were not too hesitant to belt their kids should those kids run afoul. Stealing from a parent merited a beating.

In my neighborhood the local supermarkets and family stores wouldn’t sell kids those shaving foam dispensers because they knew that we weren’t yet old enough to shave, being somewhere around 11 years of age. (This did not relate to Mary Louise Roncallo, of course, who could have starting shaving at birth.)

I never threw eggs because my mother said, “Frankie, you can blind someone if you accidentally hit them in the face, so no eggs.” So it was no eggs.

But the ultimate in fun times were the water balloons. Four of us (we called ourselves The Four Horsemen) used to go up to the roof of the Flagg Court apartment building right across the street from the public library in order to bomb library patrons who crossed the street and got within range of our water bombs.

Flagg Court was a really tall apartment building, actually an apartment complex of several buildings, and we had a unique way of getting onto the roof, which the superintendent of the building knew nothing about. We knew how to unlock the roof door from the inside even without the key. Mike Munch discovered that secret; he was a really clever kid; really street smart. And to keep our secret a top secret, we only did this on Halloween evening when it got dark. We figured we’d be able to do this until we were old men of thirty. Water ballooning was the absolute best!

So it was the day before Halloween and Munch said to us, “Oh, I got the best balloons. We don’t even have to buy them. My father has them in the drawer of his night table.”

“Why would your father have balloons?” asked Ladislav Hamlin.

“He has a few boxes of them,” said Munch.

“Why?” asked Ladislav.

“Maybe he likes to water balloon too,” I said. It was logical, wasn’t it? If you had some boxes of balloons in your night table, why else would they be there? Even parents might find water ballooning fun. It didn’t have to be restricted to kids. They probably didn’t tell us about this because they didn’t want to give a bad example as giving “bad example” was a sin.

“Makes sense to me,” said Jake “the Snake” Jacobsen.

“Look, these aren’t the normal crummy balloons you get at Bedel’s Stationary that break before you even get them half filled; these are special,” stated Munch definitively.

“How do you know they are so special?” asked Hamlin.

“Each one comes wrapped in its own wrapper. You have to break the wrapper to get the balloon out,” said Munch. “I took one and did a test when my parents weren’t home. The balloon is so strong it holds a ton of water!”

“Wow,” said Hamlin.

“They must cost a lot,” said Jacobsen.

“But we are going to get them for free. I think I can take enough of them without my father noticing it,” said Munch.

“We don’t even have to pay for them,” I said. “We can get even more chalk for our socks.”

“They have their own name too,” said Munch, now really proud of the fact that he had let us onto the greatest water balloons of all time. “They have a horse on the wrapper. It’s some Greek name about the horse that destroyed Troy.”

“Troy Donahue, the actor?” asked Jacobsen.

“Troy is a city in Rome,” said Hamlin confidently.

“A horse destroyed a city?” I asked. “Come on.”

“It was a really big horse if you see the wrapper. A really big one,” said Munch.

“It’s probably like a fairy tale,” said Hamlin. “Like Santa. It’s for little kids who like stories about horses.”

“Well these babies of your father’s are gonna be our horses!” laughed Jacobsen.

“Bombs away!” I screamed.

“Down with Troy!” yelled Hamlin.

Halloween night at 5:30 and it was getting dark at this time now. We did the sock and shaving cream thing while it was still light and we had dozens of girls screaming as we chalked them and covered them in foamy soap. Now it was time to climb the stairs to the top of Flagg Court and get those water balloons ready for combat.

Munch had gone home at around five o’clock to get the balloons since his mother usually picked up his sister at her swimming lessons at that time and his father was not yet home from his work. Munch’s dad was a cop – a big, scary, mean-looking cop you didn’t want to mess with. Munch’s mother always said that Mr. Munch, whom she called “Boo-Boo,” was a “big teddy bear” but he looked more like a grizzly if you asked me. If I were a criminal I wouldn’t want to mess with Mr. Munch.

Mike Munch was already on the roof with a whole box of these special balloons. I read the label and it said these balloons were extra strong and could be relied on not to break. Great! This would be the Halloween night of all nights. Get ready library patrons.

We started opening the wrappers.

“They’re all one color,” said Jacobsen.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Hamlin. “They feel really strong.” He stretched one of them to loosen it up. “Wow! These things stretch like crazy.”

On the roof there was a water spigot and a hose. The spigot was missing the turning knob, which the superintendent had in his sole possession, but Munch had taken care of this problem too. He brought his own knob from his house. Munch was the only kid to live in his own house; the rest of us lived in apartments.

I put water in my balloon first. “Holy Moses!” I said. “God, this thing is filling up like crazy. It’s stretching like crazy too. It’s gigantic!” I stopped putting water in. “I don’t want this balloon to rip and explode water all over me.”

“Let’s give yours a try and then The Four Horsemen start the big bombardments baby,” said Munch.

“Yaaaahhhhhh!” said Jacobsen.

“Yaaaahhhhhh!” said Hamlin.

“Yaaaahhhhhh!” said I.

Now, our usual Halloween balloon bombing had to be executed carefully. You didn’t want the victims to know the balloons were coming from the roof. If they did, you had to get the heck off the roof really fast or the victim, hopefully soaking wet, could go to the superintendent, whose apartment was right on Ridge Boulevard, the street where the library was.

There was a big sign on the superintendent’s outside door that said “Superintendent.” It didn’t take much to go up to his door and ring the bell. So we had to be really careful not to give ourselves away. We had to make sure the victim was the only one coming down the street. If someone else came out of the library or was walking along the street, we held off the attack because they could catch sight of the balloon sailing off and coming down from the roof and know we were up there.

At the edge of the roof we waited. I held the biggest water balloon ever created. It undulated in my hands. I actually had to hold this huge monster with both hands. An old lady came out of the library using a walker. I could see she had a cast on her foot. Usually people with a broken foot used crutches but she was using a walker. The lady was also quite fat. Maybe the crutches would break because of her weight and that’s why she had to use that walker. Whatever, she was the first intended victim.

“Oh, man,” said Hamlin. “She looks like a tank.”

“Come on lady, cross the street,” said Munch.

And she made her way slowly across the street.

Luckily Ridge Boulevard was not a very busy road. This slow moving tank made her way to the sidewalk on our side.

“Come on, come on,” said Munch. “Turn this way tanko and get your punishment.”

As she walked towards us, I got the gigantic undulating balloon ready. It was rare that we actually achieved a direct hit on someone’s head, although that was the goal, but still a water balloon smashing close by was sufficient to get people wet enough to piss them off and look up and down the street to see what rotten kid threw the damn thing.

“Like aim to drop it down about a foot in front of her so she walks into it. This baby will explode all over her head!” laughed Munch.

“Oh, yeah,” laughed Jacobsen.

She was almost under us now. She’d push the walker in front of her, then step forward; walker, step, walker, step, walker, step.

I was timing her.

“Here goes,” I said, leaning over the abutment at the edge of the roof. And I let the balloon go. It looked like a giant anaconda snake as it made its way through the air, heading for the large woman.

“I think you got her!” yelled Jacobsen as the balloon was almost at her head.

And then two things happened. The superintendent walked out of his apartment just as the super balloon hit her on the neck; full hit; right on the neck.

But the balloon didn’t break. Instead it curled around her neck just like a bolo and brought her to the ground. She was crawling on the ground with this super balloon wrapped around her neck and the superintendent ran to her. But he looked up and saw Jake “the Snake” Jacobsen.

“Holy shit,” said Jacobsen, ducking down. “I think he saw me.”

“I think we might have killed her,” said Munch.

I peered over the edge. “No, she’s alive, rolling around on the ground moaning. Now the super’s wife is helping her up. Jesus, the balloon still isn’t broken.”

“Where’s the super?” asked Hamlin.

“He’s on his way up,” screamed Jacobsen and The Four Horsemen bolted to the door just as it opened and a winded superintendent stood there glaring balefully at us.

“You little fucking bastards; you almost killed that woman with that Trojan. What the hell’s the matter with you?” he yelled. Man, he had some deep voice. His face was puffy and he was sweating. He was scary.

“We didn’t mean it,” said Hamlin.

“Some kid dared us to do it,” lied Jacobsen.

“We didn’t want to kill her,” I said.

“It was just some fun,” said Munch.

The superintendent grabbed the defiant Munch by his collar.

“Yeah, kid, well you can tell it to the cops.”

“His father is a cop,” said Hamlin thinking this would save us. It didn’t.

“Good, good,” said the superintendent. “I hope he beats your ass.”

Needless to say the cops were called. The lady gave her testimony and the unbroken balloon was there as evidence. The cops were laughing when they saw the balloon.

“Oh, man, where did you get this?” asked one cop.

“My father had these balloons in a drawer by the bed,” said Munch, now scared that when his father found out about his arrest (we thought we were going to be arrested) Munch would see his last days.

Munch then tried to save himself. “I figure if my father used these balloons, why couldn’t I?

The cops tried to suppress their laughs but failed.

“You’re Munch’s kid?” asked one of the cops. Munch nodded.

“Oh, this is going to be fun at the station,” said the other cop.

“Every man should be allowed to play with some water balloons,” laughed the first cop.

“I agree,” said Munch, thinking he had saved himself.

“Oh, yes, we agree, too,” said the second cop. “I am sure we can discuss this with your father at the station.”

The four of us were taken down to the station and our parents were called. They all arrived at about the same time since everyone lived within a few blocks of the precinct station. The parents were mortified. Mr. Jacobsen whacked Jake in the head, yelling: “What the hell is wrong with you throwing those things at people?” He got slapped again, this time in back of the head.

Then Jake tried to forestall any more whacks and pointed to me and said, “Scobe threw it. I was just there to watch.” Mr. Jacobsen smacked him on the arm.

“Don’t try to lie your way out of this one,” said Mr. Jacobsen as he took Jake by the ear and escorted him out of the precinct house.

Hamlin’s mother came, was told what her son did, and cried. That was infinitely worse than having your father belt you. I was praying my mother wouldn’t come. I’d rather be clobbered by my father than see my mother break down and cry.

“Mom, mom, I didn’t do anything,” whined Hamlin.

“I am so disappointed in you,” cried Mrs. Hamlin as she escorted her head-hanging forlorn son out of the station house.

Munch’s father was next in the station house. He looked around the station at the smiling policemen.

“What’s going on?” asked Mr. Munch.

“Oh, Officer Munch, your son stole some of the water balloons you keep in the drawer by your bed,” said the night sergeant.

“Those Trojan ones,” said another cop.

“Yeah,” said a third cop.

A fourth cop held up the water balloon, which still had not broken: “Here’s the evidence Officer Munch.”

Mr. Munch’s face went red. His eyes bulged. I didn’t understand why he was getting that upset about some stupid water balloons. He started towards his son.

In an attempt to stop Mr. Munch from decapitating Munch, I said: “Mr. Munch we can pay you back. I’ll buy you some balloons tomorrow. Different colors too.”

All the cops laughed. Mr. Munch’s face got even redder. His head looked as if it were pulsating.

“Shut up,” he said to me. I shut up and prayed he wouldn’t shoot me.

Mr. Munch grabbed his son by the hair and pulled him towards the front door.

“Don’t let him take any more of your water balloons,” cautioned the fourth cop.

Munch was already crying like a baby. “You won’t be able to sit on your ass until you’re thirty years old,” growled Mr. Munch. The other cops were laughing their heads off now.

What was so funny? My friend looked like he was about to have all his hair pulled out by the roots and these cops were laughing like crazy. Munch wouldn’t be able to sit on his butt until he was thirty and the cops laughed at this?

Then my parents came in. They were told what I had done. My father looked at me in anger. My mother looked at me in sorrow. I bowed my head, knowing I had disgraced them both over some stupid water balloons and a fat old tank using a walker.

When I got home I got it from my father. He whacked me once in the face; then slapped the hell out of my ass. I was wondering, as I felt the stings of each of my father’s whacks, whether my father or Munch’s father hit harder. I felt that I might not be able to sit down until I was forty.

None of us ever went water ballooning again.

[The above is an excerpt from Frank’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! ]

Frank’s latest gambling books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Teachers: The Great and the God-Awful

Most of us probably remember the teachers who were bad or so awful that calling them “bad” would be a compliment. I had a nun in third grade who called me up to the front of the class to cut my tongue out of my mouth for talking. I really thought this was about to happen so I gave it some logical thought, If I just put my tongue out a little she won’t be able to stop me from speaking in the future. It will be just a little snip. I was actually more worried about telling my parents I had been punished. (Oh, by the way, she did not cut any part of my tongue but as a kid I didn’t doubt she meant business.)

I had one biology teacher at St. John’s Prep who never hesitated to throw his heavy textbook at one or another of our student’s head for misbehaving according to his definition. Sometimes he hit them with that ponderous tome, once breaking a kid’s nose. He’d call us “monkeys” and say that “Your parents are monkeys too.”

I was always able to duck in time and was never wounded.

In seventh grade at Our Lady of Angels grammar school, I was taught by a Franciscan Brother Lucian, a red-faced, six-foot five mega-monster who would bring a misbehaving kid to the front of the class and wallop him. He did this in a unique way, holding one hand against the student’s check and walloping the other side of the kid’s face with his other massive hand. No one wanted to get hit by Brother Lucian. It was devastating and such walloping even made some of the tough kids cry.

He’d also fake a slap and if the kid flinched, “Well now sonny, you get two slaps for flinching.” The side of the face that was slapped usually had a big, red imprint of Lucian’s hand on it. That imprint would last almost all day.

He once brought me up to the front of the room and I was thinking quickly about what I could have done to merit this guy’s animosity. He laughed at me when I was standing trembling before him; he was looking down his high body at the small kid before him. “You did nothing wrong except fake me out in the basketball game last night.” He laughed. “Don’t do that again Scoblete. Now go sit down.”

Brother Lucian coached our seventh-grade basketball team. I was on that team but I never got to play. I just sat on the bench. I didn’t know what the hell that guy had against me but he evidently had something. I was the best player on the team.

The following year in eighth grade I not only started on a team that went undefeated, even beating Lew Alcindor’s team St. Jude in the LaSalle Christmas Tournament but I dominated every game along with our awesome center Pat Heelan. (Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and became one of the greatest players in NBA history.) That year I received several basketball scholarships to Catholic high schools in New York City. I was one of the best players in the city at that time. [You can read the full story of “The Real Dream Team” in my book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic.]

Fortunately, those abhorrent, angry, abusive teachers I had weren’t the ones to leave an indelible mark on my life. Instead, there were three others who gave me the tools and encouragement to equip me for success. They all taught at Our Lady of Angels grammar school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

In fifth grade I hated my teacher, Sister Patricia Michael of the Sisters of Charity, who seemed to have a real hatred of me too. “Francis, this essay is awful. You make statements you can’t prove. You keep writing this poorly and you’ll work as a garbage man – and be lucky to get that job.”

Every time I handed in something I wrote she would keep me after school to show me where I went wrong. “Francis, no one can be a good writer who doesn’t prove his case to the reader. I don’t want these statements unless you can back them up. You say here that Lincoln made very anti-Negro statements in some of his speeches but you do not quote any line from a speech. Where is your proof?”

And sometimes she would hit my hand with the strap if it looked as if I were daydreaming. She didn’t hit too hard – nothing like Brother Lucian.

In sixth grade I had Franciscan Brother Jonathan. He was a young man but a kind guy who never once hit a student. He was delighted by my writing and told me that “Francis, you will become a professional writer someday. Never give up writing. Just keep practicing.”

He knew a lot about theatre and never stopped praising the performance arts. We actually got to read real plays with real meaning. He would often be told by his superiors not to have his students read “adult” literature. He finally left the brotherhood, married a former nun, and pursued his love of theatre.

My third great teacher was Brother Barnabas, who demanded that I achieve an average of 90 or I would not be allowed to play on the basketball team. In those days you were seated according to your academic performance: the top students in the front of the class and the failures in the back. “You are too smart to be sitting in the back of the class with the idiots. You’d better get those grades up or you will remain a nobody.”

Barnabas was the coach of the eight-grade basketball team and I really wanted to be on that team so I brought my A-game to my academic life.

He also once told me, “Scoblete, you are going to be the guy to guard the best player on the other team. I expect you to shut down these great players. And kid, you are going to be the guy who will take the last shot in a close game and dribble to stall for time.”

I was even one of the three players guarding Lew Alcindor from the front, conveniently stepping on his feet as often as I could get away with. Alcindor was 6’10” at the time! I was 5’7”!

So my three elementary teachers put thoughts in my head. Thanks to Barnabas I was never afraid to put myself on the line. My father also had that philosophy and it stuck.

Jonathan was right, I did become a professional writer. He had seen a talent in me and told me about it. He also got me to love theatre. In 1978 I started my own theatre company with a fellow teacher. We worked the boards for a dozen years. I enjoyed performing before audiences. I considered teaching a performance before an audience – an audience that didn’t pay to get in and some who really didn’t want to be there (toughest audience in the world!).

My family was poor when I was graduating high school. I was lucky that I had a scholarship that paid my St. John’s high school tuition. Would I go to college? No one in my extended family, all of us from working-class parents, had gone to college. If I did, I would be the first.

I didn’t even know what the SAT exam was; just that one of the priests at the high school told me, “Scoblete, you are taking an exam tomorrow. Get a good night’s sleep. Bring a pencil.”

I applied to Ithaca College because it had a special program for 12 students called Triplum where you would major in three subjects, literature, history and philosophy. If I could get into that honors program a scholarship was possible.

My parents had no money, so I had to get a scholarship or go into the navy. I also knew that even if I got a scholarship I’d have to work, maybe full time, to send money home to my parents. But first things first: that scholarship.

On the entrance test you were given a topic and the honors committee would read your essay and let you know if you made the program and whether you’d be one of the three to get a free ride at the college.

I knew that if I didn’t get a scholarship I’d never make it to college. I journeyed to Ithaca, took the test, journeyed back home to Brooklyn and waited. Several days later I received my results. Yes, I had made Triplum and, yes, I did get the scholarship. I would become a college student.

That September I went to college and on the first day of the first Triplum seminar the professor said, “We had a remarkable essay handed in for entrance into the program. It had everything an essay should have; strong statements of opinion and facts to back up those opinions. I was quite impressed by it.”

I looked around the conference table at the members of the seminar. They all looked so intelligent. Which of them had written such a great essay?

“Mr. Frank Scoblete [holy shit!], you should be applauded for such a fine example of writing. You should be proud of yourself and you absolutely deserve the scholarship to our college. Keep up this good work.”

At that time I was so Brooklyn-born, that I used “yous” as the plural of you. I said “terlet” instead of toilet. When I first opened my mouth at the seminars I would get looks and some of the students would snicker at me. It didn’t matter. I was in college on a free ride!

On the winter break I went back to the convent of Our Lady of Angels. I asked to speak to Sister Patricia Michael. She met me in the lobby.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” I started.

“Oh, yes, I do, Francis,” she said.

I then told her how grateful I was that she took the time to teach me how to write a proper essay. I told her about Brother Jonathan liking my writing and then I told her about the scholarship based on writing a single essay and how it was considered an excellent essay.

I then told her that I had done this because of her. She had taken the time to develop my talent. I thanked her.

She cried.


[Read Frank’s book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available on Amazon.com, on Kindle and other electronic media, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]