Mary Louise Roncallo


My first day of school at five years old. I wasn’t nervous. I also wasn’t all that interested. A lot of things my parents got excited about had no impact on me although if it were supposed to have a big impact on me I could pretend it did. The act of pretending I had learned so far back I couldn’t remember when. I was what I pretended. The memory of a five-year old is as cloudy as the memory of anyone. As a five-year old, being four years old was 20 percent of my life ago. Hard to remember all of that.“Now Frankie,” said my mother, “I know you are nervous but kindergarten is your first step into the world of adulthood. Everything will be just fine.”

“Yes,” I said

We were living on 3rd Avenue and 70th Street (called Ovington Avenue) because my parents couldn’t take the dirty fruit-man in the store below our old apartment on 62nd Street and 4th Avenue anymore. I didn’t like that old apartment anyway because two rooms were not heated in the winter. My parents called it a “cold water flat.”

I would be going to the local Catholic school, Our Lady of Angels on 74th Street between 3rd and 4th avenues. My mother dressed me in the standard Catholic blue knickers and a white shirt which had OLA lettered on it.

“Are you ready Frankie?” asked my father.

“Yes,” I said.

Both my father and mother walked me the four blocks to the school. They held tightly to my hands, one on either side of me. The kindergarten was in its own small area of the grammar school. I guess they didn’t want the older kids to torture the younger kids so they kept us separated.

The teacher, the ancient Sister Thomas Mahoney, who was maybe 40, stood outside the school and greeted all the parents and the new kindergartners. She seemed pleasant enough, although she looked a little fierce in her black and white habit which the nuns used to wear in those days.

Some of the kids cried and clung to their mothers – it was almost all mothers there, very few fathers. Some of the kids looked shell-shocked. Others, such as me, were just curious as to what this new chapter in our lives would entail.

One girl standing there was a bloated kid, as if a balloon had been inflated inside her; she also had hairy sideburns and a really red face. God, it wasn’t just sideburns, I noticed this girl also had a coat of dark hair on all her exposed parts; up and down her arms and on her exposed legs and on her upper lip too. She reminded me of King Kong, my favorite monster.

“Stop staring,” said my mother.

This girl held on to her really skinny, sallow-faced, cigarette smoking mother for dear life.

“Sister! Sister!” yelled the skinny mother, smoke coming out of her nostrils. Mom seemed really agitated now. Sister Thomas came over. “My daughter is very nervous,” said the skinny mother.

“Oh, she needn’t be,” said the nun in a kindly fashion to the skinny smoking mother and to the bloated girl. “My daughter has a delicate stomach,” insisted the upset mother, smoke oozing out of her nose. “She gets very upset very easily.” She inhaled deeply on her unfiltered cigarette. “She gets stomach aches.”

“We’ll take good care of her,” said Sister Thomas. “What’s your name?” Sister Thomas asked the girl. The girl buried her head in her mother’s dress and made some weird choking sounds, “aaahhhh, urggghhh, dolop.”

“Her name is Mary Louise Roncallo,” said the skinny woman, throwing her cigarette onto the ground. “Do you think I could stay in the class with her for a few days to help her get over her shyness and fear?”

“No, that’s not a good idea,” said the nun. “We need to get them to be able to function without mommy.”

Mary Louise’s mother finally pried Mary Louise loose and gave her into the loving hands of Sister Thomas, who brought her over to some other girls who had already said goodbye to their mothers.

“This is Mary Louise,” said Sister. “Can she stand with you here?”

The girls looked at the sister in awe and they nodded their heads. Then they looked at Mary Louise and grimaced.

“And who is this handsome young man?” asked Sister Thomas. People who met me always said how good looking I was.

My father nudged me. “I am Francis Scoblete,” I said.

“Well, Francis, welcome to Our Lady of Angels. I am sure you are going to like it here.”

“Yes,” I said. Then my father and mother kissed me and walked away. I waved goodbye then turned my attention to the other kids. In my five years, I had not had many friends to play with so I was interested in these other kids. Some looked like babies and some looked a lot older than I.

Then Sister rang a hand-held bell and we all walked into the school. The classroom had all sorts of books, crayons, paper, displays, a screen, decorations and religious paintings of Christ on the cross and the Virgin Mary floating up into the sky with little angels all around her.

“Boys and girls, we now separate; the girls go over here,” she pointed to her right, “and the boys go over there,” and she pointed to her left. “We have an even number of boys and an even number of girls so each of you get a partner and we will start with our morning prayer.”

Some little boy took my hand, “Can I be your partner?” he asked. “Okay,” I said. This little boy looked scared. He was the smallest kid in the class. His name was Hugo Twaddle.

Mary Louise was left over because no girl wanted to be her partner and one other girl, a shy one, was also alone. “You two are going to be partners,” said Sister happily.

The shy little girl walked to the nun and whispered, “She smells bad.”

“She is one of God’s children,” said Sister Thomas.

“She smells bad,” whispered the shy girl.

“You and she are partners,” said Sister Thomas more firmly. The shy girl looked over at Mary Louise who seemed redder than before.

“Yes, sister,” said the shy girl. I liked the shy girl; she seemed very pleasant and clean-looking in her Catholic school uniform which was a navy blue dress and a white blouse.

“Boys and girls,” said Sister Thomas clapping her hands to quiet the few kids who were talking. “Welcome to Our Lady of Angel’s kindergarten class. Many of you are scared because this is the first time you have been away from your parents. But this is the first day of the rest of your lives.”

Many of the kids lost interest in what Sister was saying because five year-olds don’t have much of an attention span and these distracted kids looked around the classroom. I looked at the painting of Jesus with the blood flowing from his head, hands, feet and sides. Strangely enough I had great powers of concentration, even at five.

“We are now going to say our morning prayers,” said Sister Thomas. “Everyone stand up.” We all stood up. “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,” she made the sign of the cross and we all tried to follow it. “Dear God and his son Jesus, please help our young people to be good Catholics and to pray for the conversion of Russia a land of atheists and killers.”

Russia, what was that?

“Amen,” she said.

We all looked at her.

“Say Amen,” she said.

“Amen,” we all said.

Then we had the first day. I don’t really remember what we did because it was non-stop action – do this, do that, do this other thing – all designed to keep little kids interested, busy and, to some degree, learning. Some of the kids couldn’t really concentrate on anything and there was always one or two or three of them wandering around looking confused. At two hours into the class, Sister Thomas clapped and called everyone to attention. “It is now cookies and milk time, boys and girls,” she said.

Some of the kids cheered.

Sister brought out a giant platter of cookies and big containers of milk. She passed out cups to all of us and she went around the room giving out one cookie per student and pouring milk into our cups. “This is what God gives us children,” said Sister Thomas over and over.

Mary Louise grabbed three of “God’s cookies” off the tray as Sister turned her attention to some other kids who were hitting each other.

Mary Louise quickly gobbled down the three cookies and drained the milk in one giant gulp. Then she saw her shy partner delicately eating her cookie, after dunking it genteelly in her milk, and Mary Louise grabbed it away from her. Mary Louise gobbled that down too. The shy girl was pale and upset but didn’t say anything. Mary Louise held her hand out and the shy girl gave Mary Louise her milk, which Mary Louise chugged.

After we enjoyed our repast, Mary Louise started making weird noises – gurgles, a couple of wet farts, and then a white line started at the top of her head and headed down her face – she was changing from a hairy red thing to a hairy white thing. When the white made its way to her chin, Mary Louise made some animal sounds and then projectile-vomited across the entire room: aaaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh! Glop! Glop! spraying most of the kids in class and landing full-splash on several in the back of the room. Projectile vomit is like a shooting star; the bulk of it heads across the heavens but it has a tail that falls to earth before the bulk of it lands. That tail was puke particles that hit most of us.

I was spared the hit and so was my little partner Hugo, but the other kids were screaming and one or two started to vomit on themselves and their partners. Shortly, the Our Lady of Angel’s kindergarten class of Sister Thomas Mahoney was a puke-fest with most of the kids letting their cookies and milk explode all over the place.

Mary Louise had hurled her two “vomit comets” (as we ultimately titled them) across the heaven of the class room and she now looked around to find something to eat. She was eyeing the puke but Sister Thomas quickly led everyone to the bathroom where she and several other nuns cleaned the kids off. The only two without any puke particles on them were my little partner and I. Yes, God was good.

After school the mothers congregated outside waiting for their sons and daughters. When the kids came out the mothers hugged them and asked how their day was. The kids told about their exciting adventure of the day – no, not learning. You could now see the mothers looking over at Mary Louise as the first information the mothers received had to do with the vomit comet and its aftermath.

Mary Louise’s mother talked to Sister Thomas who went to her even before Mary Louise did. Mary Louise was busy grubbing candy from another mother who had brought some for her son. “More, more,” demanded Mary Louise.

“I told you,” said Mrs. Roncallo, “that Mary Louise has a delicate stomach and she must be treated very gently, do you understand?”

“Mrs. Roncallo,” said Sister Thomas sternly, “she vomited on everyone in the class. Has she been taken to a doctor?”

“The doctor says she is a very special child. She is smart but sensitive.”

And that continued all through kindergarten and elementary school. Mary Louise Roncallo on almost all important occasions reacted with vomit.

She had an unusual talent. Like a fine wine, she just got better with age.

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. All his books are available from, 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, on Kindle and other electronic media, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]