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The Other Casualty of War - Chapter Two


Paul Bylin

Arty was my best friend. Like me, he was from a poor family. His dad worked in a plastic factory where he had lost his hand in an industrial accident and his mom was a housewife. Arty was a dark haired, average build guy. A typical kid that only wanted to fit in and be the coolest he could be. I guess I knew him from the time I was twelve or thirteen years old. He lived right across the street from me and we’d go to school together. On the weekends, we could always be found hanging out together.

Both his family and mine were pretty poor, as was the rest of the neighborhood. His dad was a devoted father and a hard worker. His mom was friends with everyone in the neighborhood.

On Sunday mornings, Arty used to come over to my house, along with friends of my brother and my sister's friends. My stepfather would make a huge breakfast for everyone. The house was filled with the delicious odor of bacon, eggs, toast and home fries. These were happy times when we usually made plans for the day. Arty and I usually had plans to go hang out somewhere. Everyone would eat some breakfast and be laughing and talking about what was new with them. They were really good times.

My friends, Arty, Steve, Peter, and a few other guys formed a “gang” called the "El Cobras" so we could protect each other from the bad guys. Or, at least this is what our intention was. During our adolescent years, we were the toughest gang in our neighborhood, or so we thought; but that was only in our minds!

The “El Cobras” never got into any real trouble. We just wanted to be a gang like some of the others that were around during that time. It was the thing to do, I guess. Besides, we were all good friends and always had fun together. We would sometimes go to the dances at the YMCA, thinking we were so cool, the girls would come swarming all around us. Looking back though, perhaps it was the other way around.

None of the gang was too bright in school. I was the class clown. I was always in trouble with my teachers. One time while in 8th grade science class, the teacher was teaching a lesson on chemicals. Arty and I were in the back of the classroom and were fooling around and laughing. Neither one of us were paying any attention to what the teacher was saying. Well, the teacher got a bit upset and called me to the front of the class. This in itself caused a lot of laughter.

Trying so hard to be cool, I walked up to the front of the class where the teacher was standing. He said he wanted me to smell and then describe the chemical he had in a jar. The teacher held the jar under my nose and took the cover off. I took a big whiff. WOW! It made my eyes water and took my breath away. The classroom roared with laughter, including the teacher. He allowed this laughter to go on for what seemed a very long time. After class, my teacher, Mr. D, as we called him, told me what was in the jar. From what I can remember, it was some kind of ammonia. Mr. D. was a great teacher and he helped me to understand chemistry quite well. Some years later, he became the Mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts. He was an excellent teacher who had somewhat of an impact on my life.

One of the things that the “El Cobras” did while in junior high was sell protection to the 7th graders. We would take their lunch money, and we would protect them from us! We'd then use the money, and the money we'd squeeze from parking meters on the way to school, to buy beer and cigarettes on the weekends.

Chapter 3

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