Betty Bruiser and the Kiss from Hell

She was known as Betty Bruiser. I don’t remember her real name. I just know she was a fearsome presence in Our Lady of Angels Grammar School in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the early 1960s.

We were in sixth grade then. The boys were in one school, having been separated from the girls at the start of that school year. The nuns knew that boys and girls shouldn’t be together once the boys were experiencing adolescence. So, the boys were now taught by the Franciscan brothers, a tough lot.

The nuns thought of the girls as clean and sparkling Catholics. Heaven would be theirs. The boys, well, Hell probably knew our names.

Betty was a bruiser. In all ways. When she played basketball, she played the defensive end of the court. In those days girls’ basketball had three girls on one side of the court as defense and three girls on the other side of the court as offense. It was always three against three. Girls were considered frail and therefore they couldn’t play a full court game as did the boys.

Defense tried to stop the other team’s offense. Defense did not shoot the ball but tried to get the ball to their offense on the other side of the court.

Betty’s prowess came to the fore when she broke the nose of a girl from St. Thomas Aquinas. There was blood everywhere. It was Betty’s first game for our school. That one game sealed her as “the Bruiser.” Word got around the Catholic grammar schools in Brooklyn and girls were terrified of playing against her.

When she played dodge ball, that ball would knock opponents on their rear ends or cause them nose bleeds when it hit them in the face. Every player wanted Betty Bruiser on their team, not so much because she was cherished but because she was a horrifyingly relentless opponent.

Even though the girls had to wear gym uniforms that were styled like bloomers, Betty Bruiser was the only girl who seemed to fit into hers.

So, what did Betty Bruiser have to do with me?

She loved me. She loved me with all her heart and all the powerful muscles in her body. She would refer to me as “My Scobe.” She would wink at me in the schoolyard during recess. It was terrifying

Was she ugly? I don’t really know. Is the incredible Hulk ugly? You don’t hang around to form an opinion.

But it was a party at my friend Billy Benjamin’s apartment that caused the problem between her and me.

This would be my first unchaperoned party—meaning no parents. Stevie Labashio told me they would be playing a game I’d never heard of called “spin the bottle.”

So, as always, I went to my mother and asked her about the game. She explained it to me and added, “You can play it if you want.”

“I don’t want to play,” I said. I didn’t want to play the game because I didn’t want to waste my first kiss on just anyone; I wanted it to be with Mary Sassalo. Also, I didn’t exactly have the kiss down pat. (See my story of The Virgin Kiss and how I taught myself to be a great kisser.)

The night of the party and I was dressed to the nines, meaning I was wearing sneakers and a sweat shirt. Then Betty Bruiser entered.

She was invited to the party! Several of the boys asked Billy why he invited her. “I had to. Her mother is friends with my mother, so my mother forced me.”

“I’m not playing the kiss the bottle game,” I said.

Spin the bottle,” said Stevie.

“Not that one either,” I said.

The party was fine but Betty Bruiser kept trying to get me to talk to her privately. “Let’s go in another room, My Scobe,” she said.

I’d either pretend I didn’t hear her or start a quick conversation with someone else. I didn’t want to tell her that I wanted nothing to do with her. She might beat me up.

Now it was time for spin the bottle. I announced immediately that I wasn’t playing. I joked that I was too good a kisser and didn’t want to make anyone feel bad.

“Kissing the dog doesn’t count,” said Billy.

The first kid up was Stevie and he spun the bottle and it pointed to pretty Cathy O’Connor. Their kiss was quick and Stevie gave a thumbs up as if he had just hit a home run.

The game went around the room and finally Betty Bruiser was next. I sat behind Willie Williams, just near the bathroom. Since I wasn’t playing, I felt that this distance from the game was a good idea. I felt really sorry for the poor guy who had to kiss The Bruiser.

Betty took the bottle and looked around the room. I am not sure she could see the terror in the eyes of the boys and the hidden delight in the eyes of the girls. Some boy was doomed to kiss her.

The Bruiser saw me. She looked like a jungle cat eyeing her prey. Not a big deal for me because everyone knew I wasn’t playing, right?

Betty Bruiser picked up the bottle, looked right through Willie Williams, directly at me and smiled, mouthing the words “My Scobe.”

She then spun the bottle. Around it went, only once, and it landed on Willie Williams. There was a pause and then Willie Williams jumped up and ran out of the room, “No, no, no!”

“My Scobe!” And she ran at me. She landed on me, a powerful force of nature, and my chair tipped backwards and off we flew. I skidded into the bathroom, hitting my head on the toilet.

Betty Bruiser leapt on me—she was very heavy—and now she was kissing my face and—oh my God!—licking me trying to get her tongue into my mouth. I thought, what is wrong with this girl?

I fought as if my life depended on it—and maybe it did! I refused to let her kiss me on the lips but I just couldn’t muster enough strength to get her body off me.  My nose was wet with saliva now.

I was squirming like a worm but she was plastered on me.

Finally, I was saved as the rest of the boys showed pity on me and dragged her off me. It was like a brawl at a ball game as the boys stayed between her and me.

“My Scobe,” she repeated, charging at me. “My Scobe. My Scobe. My Scobe.” A few times she almost made it through the boys—she was so strong—but their lines held.

She finally calmed down and the girls led her to the bedroom. I hustled out of the apartment.

I swore off parties for the next two years. They were just too dangerous. Instead, I spent my leisure time practicing my kissing technique for Mary, the girl of my dreams.



I sat on the couch as I had over the weeks and months prior to this moment. I had my arm around my mother’s shoulder. She was snuggled into my chest. My father watched from a chair opposite us.

“I was in the backyard on 92nd street and I saw my mommy kissing my daddy,” she giggled. “They were kissing right there.”

Mom was 83 years old. “They kissed a few times,” she giggled. I squeezed my mom’s shoulder. She was skinny by this time.

She would call me “Frankie” as in “Frankie, I saw my mommy kissing my daddy in the yard.” But today she had forgotten my name. She knew she knew me – at least I think she knew me – but my name was now lost to her. Most of her memories were lost too – although some long-term ones still could be bubble up a little here and a little there.

My Mom was born in 1925. Her father died in the mid-1930’s leaving six kids behind; five daughters and one son. There was no welfare in those days so my mom left school in sixth grade and she and her sisters went to work in the factories. My grandmother cleaned schools. They skimped and saved and they were able to keep their house on 92nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Where they lived is now an entrance to the Verrazano Bridge.

The son joined the army for World War II. He always volunteered for the most dangerous assignments. I do not know how many enemy soldiers he killed. Those who knew him called him fearless and daring.

My two strong memories of him concerned how much he smoked. He always had a cigarette in his mouth. And second, he would twist my arm behind my back and tell me to say that my father was a “bum” or “I’ll break your arm in half.” I’d cry but I never gave in. I am surprised he didn’t break my arm. Oh, yes, he was a hunter too. That might be my third memory of him. So it was his smoke, my pain and various creatures’ deaths.

The five sisters were loving. They doted on each other. They emotionally supported each other. They had an unbreakable union that lasted until the very last one passed away almost a decade ago.

The sisters held their brother in very high esteem. As a kid, I never told my mother that he tortured me. It wasn’t until I was older, an adult actually, that I told her about him. She wouldn’t believe me. She couldn’t believe me. Then the other male cousins started to tell their tales about him, how he would get each of them alone, and hold a lit cigarette closely over the palm of one trapped hand, daring them to flinch. The sisters started to believe. The female cousins had no tales about him. He spared them.

My mom’s was an immigrant family. Italian laborers. Hard workers. Perhaps the New York City version of the salt of the earth. The sons in such families were often lauded and revered. It was true of my family. It didn’t really matter what the child was like, if he were male, he was premier.

This fearless and daring son sent his army paychecks home during the war and my grandmother saved the money so that when he returned from duty, he received a substantial nest egg. The daughters had worked tirelessly for money through the Great Depression and the War, but they had no nest eggs. Instead, they had supported the family. Their brother took his bank account, and left.

My uncle died at 50; as far as I could tell no male cousin shed a tear. I didn’t go to his wake or funeral.

My mom was the middle sister. She worked until her mid-60s. Her final job was at the World Trade Center. I could talk to my mom about anything.

At another visit, my mother snuggled into me, “I have a picture of my daddy.”  She would always say that and then she’d point to someone in a picture, some relative or friend, and say, “That is my daddy.” It never was.

Until this day.

Up to that time I had never seen my mother’s father.  But this day, on the wall near the couch, was a new photo – an old new photo – a little grainy but it showed the clear picture of a young man. He was dressed in a leather overall and he was standing on the side of an ice-truck. He was an ice distributor, an iceman.

I didn’t look like him. But then I realized that this man was indeed my grandfather. His hands! I looked at his hands. They were my hands or, rather, mine were his hands.

“He is your granddad,” my dad said.

His hands and my hands.

“My daddy,” my mother nodded and then: “I saw my mommy kissing my daddy in the backyard.”

“Where was that?” I asked. “Do you remember the street?”

“My mommy was kissing my daddy.”

I am Frankie, mom, your son.  I have my grandfather’s hands. I have your father’s hands. I held my hands up. “Look at my hands,” I said.

She was looking far away. “My mommy was kissing my daddy,” she said.

In a few days, she stopped talking. In a few weeks, she stopped eating. She died. March 22, 2008.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available from, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

“Not everything in this world is nice.”


Long Island, New York, March 2020

We are on lockdown. The coronavirus is rampaging through New York State and the City is the hardest hit area in the country. We have to stay in our house but we can still go food shopping or to the doctor’s office or the hospital if we catch the virus. The more we go out, the better the chance we’ll catch this virus.

I turned to my wife, the Beautiful AP, and said: “I don’t remember anything like this. It’s like being in a science fiction book. The entire world is affected by a virus. It’s horrifying.”

“I’m thrown,” she said. “I don’t feel like myself. We’ve read about stuff like this happening but I never thought it would happen here.”

“This has spooked me,” I said.

“It’s spooked everyone.”

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1953

I’m playing outside my father’s store at 7007 Third Avenue. I’m six years old, about to be seven.

There’s Lento’s Restaurant on the corner of Third and Ovington avenues; then Todd’s clothing store, then my father’s store, then a dry cleaners and then a grocery store, then Bedell’s pet shop. Across the street are Trunz Bakery and a new pizza parlor that just opened. Pizza was 15 cents a slice. I fell in love with pizza.

The grocery store had just been sold to a group of men who had accents just like many of the men in our neighborhood. But these men were not Italian or Irish or Norwegian like many of the men who had accents. The Norwegians owned the two delicatessens near us. They were very tall and blonde. And there were Pole-axe people in the neighborhood too.

We sat in the backyard yesterday. We have a beautiful deck that we rarely use. We wanted to get some sun. It was a pleasant day, about 60 degrees. We took two Coleman camping chairs outside. We have no furniture on the deck. Why bother? We might sit outside four times in a year. I get the best views of outdoors from my office which is three quarters windows. I spend a lot of hours in my office.

I have three fish tanks in my office: a 20-gallon, a 55-gallon and a 205-gallon. I love fish and have since I was a child.

I bought fish from Bedell’s. My mother always said to me, “You can have one small tank but when you grow up you can have as many tanks as you want.”

I wanted a lot of tanks.

The men who owned the grocery store were quiet. They had crummy-looking tattoos on their arms too; just like Kaplan the butcher, whose store was down the block on 72 Street and Third Avenue. Kaplan the butcher was not quiet. He joked around and complained about everything, even his customers. “They are always complaining and complaining about this, that and everything.”

He and my father were good friends. Kaplan the butcher would always say, “Your father is a great man, Frankie, a great man. Remember that.”

The new owners of the grocery store were very friendly to my father. But they did not talk a lot. A couple of times I saw their wives entering or leaving the grocery store. They were quiet too. I would wave to them and they would wave back. They didn’t smile. They had those tattoos on their arms too, usually covered up. They were the first women I ever saw with tattoos.

I asked my friend Stevie G. about those tattoos. He said, “They were in the Navy. All sailors get tattoos. My uncle has one too but my uncle’s is a woman bending over. It proves they were in the Navy.”

But were women in the Navy? I didn’t know.

One morning I asked my father, “The tattoos those men and Kaplan the butcher have. They are so ugly, just numbers and a letter or two. Why did they get them?”

My father looked at me for a few moments. I was six years old, going on seven.  “Frankie, you are right, they are ugly tattoos. They show us that not everything in this world is nice.”


Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available on, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at bookstores.




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, 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.]