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.

My Three Best Teachers


Today, May 8th is National Teachers’ Day. I had three teachers who helped me set the course of my life.

My 5th grade teacher at Our Lady of Angels Grammar School was Sister Patricia Michael of the Sisters of Charity. I hated this woman! She would not let me get away with anything. I sat in the back with the other dumb kids – that was considered proper seating in those days, smart kids upfront and dumb kids in the back. I enjoyed being with the idiots.

“Francis,” she would say to me. “You are not stupid. You are one of the smartest kids I know. You belong up front. If you don’t get there by the end of the term you will be in great trouble. Do you hear me, young man?”

And she had this damn thing about writing. “You can be a good writer but you are lazy. You better learn the rules before you bend them, young man.”

So my early essays for her came back coated in what looked like blood. Slowly (and surely) I learned to write a decent essay because of her falcon-like hovering over my work.

By the end of the year I was upfront with the smart kids. It was uncomfortable but what could I do? She was beating me into the submission of being smart. Damn her!

I went back some years later to tell her how much I appreciated her for what she did for me. That she was a great teacher and I wanted her to know it. She cried.

I dedicated one of my books to her.

In 6th grade I had a true poet as a teacher, Franciscan Brother Jonathan. He was very interested in my writing and he gave me a tremendous amount of advice. He wrote in my yearbook that I would be a published writer, just wait and see!

He also told me that I had a way with public speaking. He didn’t call it that; he’d say I had a way with crowds.

I dedicated one of my books to him.

And finally my 8th grade teacher and basketball coach Franciscan Brother Barnabas.  We had the best 8th grade basketball team in New York City. I wrote about this in my book The Virgin Kiss.

I had backslid a moment and my grades were in the low 80’s. He told me that if I didn’t get them over 90 there would be no basketball for me. I got them up.

In basketball I had two roles; to cover the best player on the other team (I was one of three who covered Lou Alcindor – now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar – and my job was to irritate the hell out of him since I was a foot-and-a-half shorter than he was). I also had to handle the ball if the game was within 10 points at any time. We tended to defeat teams by huge scores and 10 points close to us was considered too close.

He once told me that if there were ever a problem the ball would go to me and I would take care of it. I took care of it. We went undefeated.

I dedicated a book to him.

I enjoyed my career as a teacher and what made it worthwhile was joining Facebook and discovering that I had not wasted my time in education. I appreciated those former students who told me that 33 years of my life had real meaning to them.

Mary Louise Roncallo and First Holy Communion


In second grade, I felt sorry for the poor Protestants who had no idea of what our Holy Communion was all about. Father McCain explained it perfectly. “Boys and girls, only the Catholic Church has the Truth with a capital ‘T.’ Our Holy Communion is a sacrament where the real Jesus Christ exists in the bread that you receive in the Holy Eucharist, which is another name for Holy Communion.”

Since we were going to make our First Holy Communion next week, Father McCain had come to the second grade classes to make sure we knew what this sacred event was all about.

“Those poor Protestants think that the giving of the bread and wine is just a symbol, which means it isn’t real. No, my young Catholic men and women, the transubstantiation which as you all know means that the bread and wine are really changed into the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is real. Jesus Christ is fully in each and every Host [bread wafer] that you consume. You are taking Christ into your body to cleanse you and to make you strong spiritual Catholics so if the atheist Communists conquer the world you will have the strength to never deny your religion even if they torture you to death by putting burning spits on your skin, poking out your eyes and cutting off your heads and doing even worse things. Remember that the Communists are the most murderous people on earth.”

How could those Communists make their spit burning hot? How did they do such a thing? Did they spit in a pot and boil it and then throw it on your exposed skin? What animals those atheists were!

And those poor Protestants, too; they had no idea of the Truth with a capital “T.”

“The Communists and the Protestants are all going to Hell,” reminded Sister Elise Martin in her stern voice.

“Sister,” said Father McCain, and then he broke with the Catholic tradition of that time by saying, “there are some very good Protestants who just don’t know any better. God is all merciful and I think some will be saved.”

“But all the Communists are going to Hell,” scolded the sister. Disagree with that was her tone.

To forestall a theological argument in front of impressionable minds, Father McCain said, “Oh, yes, all the Communists are going to Hell.”

“And most Protestants,” added sister forcefully. Father McCain gave her a look out of the side of his face but he didn’t say anything. This nun always wanted the last word and she always got it.

“Father?” asked Joel, one of the two Jewish kids – yes, some Jewish kids were in our school. “If this bread is the body and blood of Jesus when you bite into it does it bleed?”

“No,” said Father McCain. “The miracle is that the bread stays bread but is transformed on a real and spiritual level into the body and blood of Christ.”

“If you examine the bread then it is still bread?” asked Joel.

“Yes and that is where faith comes in,” said the priest.

“The true faith Joel, the true faith, not like some others,” added Sister Elise Martin.

With these big questions of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine; with Hell dangling over the heads of most people on earth (and on Catholics who sinned), with atheists who could put burning spit on you, many of the girls had religious questions.

“Father,” asked the love of my young life, Mary Sissallo, “if we are eating the real body and blood of Jesus Christ does that mean there will only be two people in the Blessed Trinity instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost since Jesus is being eaten piece by piece?”

“God’s ways are not man’s ways,” stated the sister.

Mary Sissallo looked confused.

“Sister,” said Father McCain, “let me answer the questions, please, as that is my job as a priest.”

Sister Elise Martin’s face turned tight and she nodded slightly. Most of the boys were delighted that Father McCain had slapped her down. This nun favored the girls. She always told the class that the girls had the fast route to heaven because the mother of Christ was a woman and even though Christ was a man, he was also God which meant that other men were inferior because they were not God. This made sense to her but I had no idea what she was talking about – except I understood that girls had a better chance of going to heaven and boys were in trouble.

“Mary Sissallo,” said Father McCain who knew all of our names, “that was a very good question. You used logic to try to understand something that seems impossible – that Jesus could be consumed by man and still exist in other forms at the same time. But that is the power of God, to do the impossible. God created the Universe but He is not subject to the laws of the Universe as we are. He can do all things that He wishes to do even if they seem impossible or illogical to us.”

That was as good an explanation as any I had heard even though I had no idea of what it meant. Most of religion made no sense and that is why you needed faith.

“If the Host represents Jesus,” said Catherine Elizabeth O’Connor.

“No! No!” jumped in Sister Elise.

Father McCain held up his hand indicating that sister should be quiet.

“Jesus is there fully in the flesh. The Host does not represent Him; it is Him.”

“I am sorry,” said Catherine, adjusting her thick glasses. “Here is my question, Father. What if the Host falls to the floor?

“Since the Host is the sacred body of the Most High, Jesus Christ, the priest is the only one who can pick it up off the floor. No one else can touch the Host, only a consecrated Catholic priest.”

Now you would think that at this stage in our development the boys too would be in awe of the sacrament we were about to receive, and in some ways I guess we were. It was, after all, an absolutely amazing thing to be eating Jesus Christ Himself. But we had other concerns; much more immediate practical concerns that were far easier to understand and took up more of our mental time.

Oh yes, there was a BIG other thing in our minds, Big with a capital “B,” which overshadowed everything Father McCain was telling us.

I was nominated by head-nodding acclimation to ask the BIG question.

“Father, if someone pukes…” All eyes immediately turned to Mary Louise Roncallo, who had puked enough times since kindergarten to make us fully aware that First Holy Communion could be an amazing stage for a spectacular performance by the vomit-comet queen.

“That is disgusting, Francis,” yelled sister aiming her deadly eyes at me.

Riding right over her, Father McCain said, “Yes, Francis, if such a thing happens, and it has never happened in my thirty years in the priesthood so don’t worry, the priest would have to take the elements of the Host out of the, ah, uh, stuff.”

The only ones who didn’t know we were talking about Mary Louise were Father McCain and Mary Louise herself. Mary Louise didn’t seem too self-aware or she wouldn’t eat like a hippopotamus, often bullying to steal the other kids’ food. She would do this to the smaller kids who were afraid of her massive hairy body; she would loom over them until they sheepishly handed over their sandwiches, cookies and pies; and she would also steal food from the tougher kids when they weren’t looking as she had lightning-fast hands when it came to food.

Mary Louise Roncallo seemed the size of a horse; had the appetite of an elephant and the hygiene of a pig, and she was now fully coated with small black hairs all over her reddish skin.

“So,” I continued in order to make sure I had this exactly right. “If you were the priest and someone puked all over the place…”

“Francis Scoblete!” shouted the sister. Father McCain put his hand up to silence her again.

“Yes, if I were the priest that is what I would have to do. It is one of the Laws of the Church.”

So for the next week the boys set up a notebook guessing at what time in the First Holy Communion Mass Mary Louise would let loose. I figured she’d launch sometime after receiving the body and blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Up until then her stomach would be empty since we were supposed to fast from after dinner on Friday evening until we ate Christ at Saturday’s First Holy Communion ceremony. Since there were 23 boys in the class, the times were spread out all over the place.

All the girls, except for Theresa Blodgett, refused to participate in our lottery because it was disrespectful to the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. I tried to explain to some of the girls that the Lord wasn’t the issue; it was Mary Louise. The girls disdained me. Maybe Sister Elise Martin was right after all; girls were better than boys.

The big day finally arrived.

My mother dressed me in the special First Holy Communion suit with a carnation in the lapel. The girls all wore white dresses to symbolize that they never got dirty. I didn’t realize at the time that the white dress symbolized that they were marrying Jesus Christ. When I was told that a few months later I said, “I thought Jesus Christ never got married?” Later I was told that being the bride of Christ was not what marrying Jesus really meant. These nuns could drive you crazy with their “it means that but it really doesn’t mean that” routines. After a while I just shut my ears – and that made Catholic life a lot easier to handle. It could drive you crazy knowing that everything that was was also everything that wasn’t.

The nuns lined all the classes up in Our Lady of Angels school yard, with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, each group forming their Holy Communion line. We were lined up in height order; the smallest boy, Hugo Twaddle, first, all the way to the two giants of our class, Kenny Peterson and the towering Patrick Heelan being the last two. I was in the middle of the line.

The girls were lined up with itsy-bitsy Maria De Cardinale first and the humungous Mary Louise Roncallo last.

The parents filled the massive Our Lady of Angels church, which was on Fourth Ave between 73rd and 74th Streets. Once all the parents were inside, the organist began the music and we were slowly ushered into the massive church.

If you faced the altar, the boys were seated on the left side of the church; the girls were seated on the right. Nuns patrolled the aisles, making sure no one talked as this was, as one nun reverently put it, “Your entrance into Life Everlasting through you own free will given to mankind at the dawn of creation when we were perfect but made all the wrong choices from then on.” That seemed formidable…whatever it meant.

As we entered the church the shortest kids were seated in the front rows; the tallest kids in the last rows. A couple of parents dared to take pictures in the church as the procession entered and they were quickly tongue-lashed by the nuns nearest them. “This is a house of God!” loudly proclaimed Sister Elise. “Not a photography studio!” Since Our Lady of Angels was a huge church anything that was said, even when whispered, would echo. So everyone in the church could hear sister’s admonishment echoing throughout the building. “NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO! NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO!”

The boys and girls had somber expressions on their faces. This was not the time for levity, even when Ladislav Hamlin ripped a rather loud and disgustingly smelly fart. We ignored it, except for a couple of giggles from some of the boys. Every girl completely ignored it even though it could be heard and then smelled for quite a distance. All the girls had their heads bowed – God were they religious.

Once we were all seated, Father McCain and several altar boys entered the altar area and the Mass began. In those days the Mass was said in Latin which sounded mystical and the priest faced the altar so no one could quite see what he was doing. That made the Mystery of the Transubstantiation even greater since it was all so secretive.

Father McCain gave a sermon about the importance of the Holy Eucharist in the life of a Catholic because it was our chance to share in the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Life of God Himself.

Then it was time for us to eat Jesus Christ, the Lord, Himself. The nuns went from row to row indicating when it was our turn to go into the center aisle, our hands in prayer mode, and then we walked slowly and solemnly to the Communion railing. Since Mary Louise was behind me I wasn’t able to see her until I came back from being given a dry, tasteless wafer which I was not allowed to chew – Christ had to melt in your mouth, like M&Ms. As soon as I had that bread in my mouth I committed a little blasphemy when I thought, “Christ doesn’t taste too good.”

Coming back to my pew, there was Mary Louise passing me going to the Communion rail – her face as red as blood. I could see those little heaves starting that if left unchecked would result in horror for all around her and a win for the kid who picked the right time.

I was already seated in my pew, kneeling, supposedly praying to Jesus, and the Father and the Holy Ghost, but I was actually watching the monstrous Mary standing after receiving the Host. She turned to walk back to her pew. Now the white line showed on her forehead. The boys gasped in excitement. The MOMENT was at hand!

Mary started to make her gurgles, “ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg” as she slowly headed back to the last pew. The girls in front of her were now very much aware that danger was in the offing as they heard the prelude, “ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg,” and so they started to walk faster to put some distance between themselves and her, knowing full well that with the projectile vomit of Mary Louise there was really no escaping if the comet headed towards them or over them. With that arcing vomit-comet doom looming, you’d get some, most or almost all of it on yourself and everything around you. It was fate; like Christ having to be hung on the cross to save the rest of us from bad things. It was the way of the world.

The adults started to look at her as the white line now covered her face from forehead to nose. You could see some of the adults pointing, “What is that dear? On that kid?” “I have no idea, honey.”

Loud: “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg!” You could hear it echoing in the church. “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg.” “Ugh, ah, urp, urp, blurf, yorg.” “Ugh, ah, urp, burp, blurf, yorg.”

Sister Elise turned towards Mary and stopped in her tracks. The nuns all knew of Mary’s puking prowess and none of them wanted to get in the way either.

Louder: “Ugh! Ah! Urp! Urp! Blurf! Yorg!” (Echo, Echo, Echo.) All heads turned towards Mary Louise Roncallo.

“It’s coming!” I whispered to Arman Carmen Buddy Frasca the Third.

Loud as all Hell: “UGH! AH! URP! URP! BLURF! YORG!” (Echo! Echo! Echo!)

Mary Louise’s head started to sway from one side to the other. Her face was now totally white. Her mustache was highlighted prominently. The girls ahead of her were now sprinting to get away. The boys’ side of the church were all ducking and praying she wouldn’t turn in our direction. The parents looked befuddled.

And then: “Arrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Arrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!” and a HUGE (with a capital ‘H-U-G-E’) vomit-comet rocketed up out of her mouth and sailed majestically up over the pews where the adults were sitting stunned. As the comet dripped on them small multi-colored pink gobs of whatever had been in Mary Louise’s stomach, the comet made its descent into the pews where even more parents sat in wide-eyed awe as the comet landed and splashed gallons of stinking goo all over them.

From the altar I saw Father McCain quickly turn around, look in bewilderment as the sounds of hundreds of attendees echoed in the church.

McCain saw the vomit-comet splash its contents over pews and pews of his beloved church floor, and the kneeling parents and other parishioners and (God save him) he yelled (without thinking mind you of his role as a servant priest of the Almighty God) he yelled right from the altar: “OH, CRAAAP!” which echoed all over the church, “Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP! Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP! Ohhhhhhh CRAAAP!” to the bug-eyed    astonishment of all the adults and First Holy Communion recipients.

The parents who had been baptized in the gooey gobs from Mary Louise fled the church uttering low screams; wives and grandmas weeping into their handkerchiefs. All their new clothes had been drenched in dreck. Other adults held their noses as they tried to act unconcerned but they quickly fled the church too. A few of the other kids puked too as Mary Louise had lofted a Godzilla-like blob that smelled like the bodies burned in the never-ending fires of Hell itself. It was hard not to puke. Even I fought the urge.

“That was great,” said Jake “the Snake” Jacobsen.

“That was an atomic bomb!” smiled Billy Bell.

“I think I hit it on the head when she’d do it,” said Hugo Twaddle.

The stern-faced nuns escorted us all out, by rows, in an orderly fashion, and we went into the schoolyard, still in height order.

I could imagine poor Father McCain going through all that puke when everyone left the church looking for pieces of Jesus’ body. It wasn’t easy being a priest in the Catholic Church.

In the schoolyard as we were about to split up and look for our parents, Mary Louise said, “I’m hungry,” and stared at the smaller girls.

(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.]