By the early 1960’s, Shane started bringing some of his New York friends home with him to Point Pleasant. There are four I remember quite well.
Crazy George Guttman was a scary looking man that no one wanted to be around. He looked a lot like Charles Manson, with the same beady eyes. George gave me the creeps the first time I saw him.
Shane came home with George in the spring of 1962. He had met George just one day earlier in Central Park. Shane was so softhearted that he thought George needed friends, so he asked him to come to Point Pleasant to meet his family. George stayed at our house for the next few days and he didn't say a thing to anyone. He walked around the house, staring into space and talking to himself.
My mother hated him and she was also afraid of him. Cathy told Shane that George reminded her of her stepfather Robert, who had killed her mother in 1955.
“You’d better take your friend George back to the city,” Cathy told Shane, “or I'll leave you for good and take the kids with me.”
That night, Shane and George went back to New York. Before they left, Shane told my mother he didn't trust George and that he’d never bring him back.
A few days later, George did come back, but without Shane, who was still in the city and didn't know George had come back to our home.
My mother was cooking dinner and I was in the living room with Ted and Kathleen, watching TV. George walked in our front door and into the kitchen, where he stood and stared at my mother, with an evil grin on his face. Cathy was terrified.
“What are you doing in my house and where is Shane?” Cathy asked, as she gripped a hot frying pan filled with sizzling oil.
George smiled at her and said, “Shane's still in New York. I’ve come to see you and the kids.”
Cathy told him he wasn’t welcome and to leave immediately.
“Here’s ten dollars,” she said. “Take a taxi cab to the train and go back to New York.”
George dropped the money on the floor and said, “I don't want your money. I want you.”
I ran over to Miss Smith's house and called a cab to come take crazy George away.
George started walking towards my mother. Ted went over and grabbed George by the arm.
“Get your dirty hands off my mother,” Ted yelled. “Get the hell out of here!”
Cathy still had the hot frying pan in her hand. “Get out of here or I'll hit you with this,” she cried. “Get out! I mean it!”
George grinned and took a few steps closer. My mother hit him over the head with the frying pan. Hot cooking oil dripped down George’s face. He stood there grinning, and then turned and went out the front door, where the cab was waiting. But when the young cab driver saw crazy George, he sped off, leaving George standing in front of our house.
Ted and I stood at the front door, trying to keep George out. I had a large brick and Ted had a butcher knife. Luckily, the police came and took George away.
Shane never brought George back to our house again. But years later, in the seventies, George went nuts and stabbed ten people in New York, including Shane and Cathy. No one was killed, but my mother’s arm was badly damaged and she lost the use of it for the rest of her life. After that, George was put in jail for the rest of his life.
While I didn’t like most of the friends that Shane brought home, there was one sweet man who we all loved. His name was Panama. Panama was six and a half feet tall and completely bald. He was a dark skinned, black man of about fifty or sixty. He was so dark that when we watched TV in the dark, all we could see were the whites of his eyes and his beautiful white teeth.
Of all the people Shane brought home from New York, Panama was the nicest. When we had no money for food, Panama would go to the supermarket and buy a shopping cart full of food for us. He'd also take us kids to the movies and to the boardwalk.
One day Ted came home from a friend’s house wearing a leather bomber jacket, with our school mascot, a black panther, embroidered on the back.
“Wow, Ted, where did you get the nice new jacket?” I asked.
“Peter Jones gave it to me” Ted replied.
“Is that the same Peter Jones in my math class?” I asked.
“Yes,” Ted said. “Peter is one of my new friends. I met him by the train tracks.”
When my mother saw the jacket, she knew it had to be expensive. She asked Ted if Peter’s mom and dad said it was OK for Ted to have the jacket.
“Gakie,” Ted said, “Peter’s dad was the one who gave it to me. He said it was too small for Peter.”
“Well, Ted, it's way too small for you too,” Cathy said.
The sleeves of the jacket came to Ted's elbows.
“I know it's too small,” Ted said, “but I think it will fit Kathleen.”
Lucky Kathleen, I thought. She gets everything and now she has a panther high school jacket.
About a month later, Mr. Jones and Peter came over to our house.
“Your son stole my son's brand new jacket,” Mr. Jones yelled at my mother. “Where is it? I want it back now. What did you do with Peter’s jacket?”
My mother said she wasn't sure where it was, but that she would find it and give it back.
Mr. Jones stomped his foot and said, “Lady, I’d better have it first thing tomorrow morning and there’d better not be anything wrong with it. And if I don’t give it back then, I’m going to call the cops and have Ted sent to jail.”
He kept yelling at my mother, blowing his bad breath at her. My mother was so mad that she picked up a bucket of dirty mop water, and threw it at Mr. Jones, getting him all wet.
Poor little Peter was standing next to his screaming father, looking very embarrassed. Peter looked at me, as if to say, please don't tell the kids at school about my dad.
Finally, Mr. Jones and Peter left. But the next morning, Mr. Jones pulled up in front of our house. My mother was in the kitchen with Panama, who was making us breakfast.
“Oh, god, there he is already, and it's only seven o’clock. I don't feel like dealing with that man now. I’ve got a splitting headache.”
“Don't you worry, Cathy darling,” Panama said. “I'll take the stupid jacket out to that cranky old man.”
Panama smiled at Cathy and walked out the door with Peter’s jacket over his shoulder. He walked over to the car and said with a big smile, “Hello, Sir. It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?”
Mr. Jones took one look at Panama, and said in a scared voice, “Tell Ted he can keep the dirty old jacket. I don't want it back now.”
He drove off, almost knocking poor Panama over and leaving long black skid marks on the street in front of our house.
Panama walked back into the house and said, “What the hell’s the matter with that crazy man?”
He handed the jacket to my mother, who took it and threw it in the garbage can.
The last time I saw Panama was in December of 1980, at my mother’s funeral.
Rick and His Family
Not long before we moved away from Point Pleasant in 1965, Shane came home from New York with a whole family!
I was in the kitchen doing my homework, when Shane walked in with Rick Wright, his wife Ally, and their two kids. Jill was two and Joey was six months. And with them was Jimmy, a heavyset Irishman, who was Ally's boyfriend. They came with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and stayed for months.
My mother felt sorry for the kids, so with the few dollars she had, she took Ally to a rummage sale and bought clothes for her and her babies. They then went to the A&P to buy food.
At first, having the little children around was fun. I loved to babysit for them when Ally went out. But she started staying away all night, leaving the kids with me or my mother while she was out partying. She'd stay out drinking with Jimmy and the bums that hung around the bars late at night in Point Pleasant.
All these people did was drink, take drugs and fight. My mother was so tired and fed up with the whole thing, she threatened to leave.
One day, Shane was fighting with Rick over drugs. The two kids were crying, trying to get attention from Ally, who was up in Shane's bed with Jimmy.
“Where are my goofballs?” Rick yelled at Shane. “You took my goofballs!”
“Go to hell, Rick,” Shane yelled back. “I didn't take your darn pills.”
Rick walked out the back door. Thank god, he was gone. But he came running back into the dining room like a crazy man, swinging an ax. He screamed at Shane, accusing him of stealing his drugs. Rick’s face was bright red and his wild hair stuck straight out. He looked like a crazed Bozo the Clown. He was so high on drugs that he didn't remember taking the whole bottle of barbiturates himself an hour earlier.
Rick swung the ax over his head and told Shane he was going to kill us all if he didn't give him back his goofballs. He made Shane, Cathy, Ally, Jimmy, Ted and me sit in a line on the floor in the dining room. While he stood over us, threatening to kill us, the two little children clung to Ally, screaming. I was sure he was about to ax us all to death.
Rick yelled again, “Shane, if you don't give me back my pills, I’m going to kill you all,” as he swung the ax within an inch of Jimmy's neck.
“I don't have your goofballs,” Shane yelled. “You took them yourself, you stupid, crazy thing. Get the fuck out of my house!”
Ted managed to escape and went to a neighbor’s to call the cops. Jimmy threw some drugs he had in his pocket at the crazed man.
“Here are some of your damn pills,” Jimmy said.
Rick dropped the ax, picked up the pills and went upstairs.
Ted came back and told us the police were on their way. For some reason, Shane picked up some broken bottles and went out to the curb in front of our house and spread the broken glass on the road so the cops would get flat tires when they arrived. But the cops saw the glass and drove around it. Ten cops, almost Point Pleasant’s entire police force, ran into our house and arrested Rick.
The next day, Ally took off with her kids and Jimmy, and we never saw them again.
Cathy Leaves Shane
The last friend Shane brought to our house was a mousy looking man named Gaton. At first, Gaton seemed nice. He acted much better than most of the strange people Shane found. Even though he was a junkie and was hooked on heroine, he seemed almost normal.
Both Kathleen and I liked Gaton, so when my mother told us she and Gaton were in love and were planning to move to New York, we were happy. I would finally get to move away from our cold, decrepit house and the creepy kids at school. Gaton told Kathleen and I not to say anything to Shane or Aggie. Over the next few days, Kathleen and I started packing the things we wanted to keep in boxes.
I felt sorry for Shane. He trusted Cathy so much, it never even crossed his mind that Cathy was about to leave him and take Kathleen and I with her. Maura was already living in New York with her friend Grace. And my fourteen year old brother Ted was living in the city with his girlfriend, a thirty-five year old woman with three kids.
On December 10, 1966 Shane caught my mother and Gaton sleeping together. This was the only time I ever saw Shane hit my mother. He gave her quite a beating, while Gaton ran off to the corner bar. Shane left the house very upset, and walked over to Aggie’s house.
Cathy walked down to the bar to join Gaton. Kathleen and I were afraid. We weren’t sure what would happen next.
At about eleven that night, Cathy and Gaton came back from the bar and told Kathleen and me to get ready to leave. They said a taxi was on the way and we were all going to spend the night at the Sea-Air Hotel in Point Pleasant Beach.
At the hotel, Cathy and Gaton stayed in one room and Kathleen and I stayed in another. I was excited about going to New York in the morning. Kathleen and I talked all night about living in New York. We thought it was going to be a wonderful adventure. It didn’t work out that way.
At about eight the next morning, someone was knocking at our door. Thinking it was my mother or Gaton, I opened the door and saw a cop standing there.
“Get dressed and tell your sister to get dressed. I’m taking you to your grandmother Aggie’s house.”
The cab driver had called the police and told them that Mrs. Cathy O'Neill was at the hotel with a strange man and two of her children. In the middle of the night, the cops came to the hotel and forced Gaton out of town and my mother went with him, leaving Kathleen and me sleeping a few rooms down the hall.
The policeman drove Kathleen and me to Aggie’s house. We ate breakfast and went to school. When I got back to Aggie’s house later that afternoon, Shane was there making donuts and hot chocolate. He was in a wonderful mood, but Aggie seemed angry.
When I asked Aggie if she knew where my mother was, she snapped, “Your mother left you kids and Shane and went to New York with Gaton. She should know better than to take off with a crazy man.”
“Why do you think Gaton is crazy?” I asked.
“Do you know how your other grandmother Charlotte died?” Aggie asked.
“No,” I said, “was she very old?”
“No, Charlotte was only fifty-two,” Aggie replied. “She was murdered by her crazy husband who stabbed her to death in a jealous rage. He stabbed her over and over in the driveway. If your mother doesn't watch out, Gaton may do the same thing to her.”
This was a hateful thing for a grandmother to say to her granddaughter, but Aggie was upset about my mother leaving Shane.
“Worst of all,” Aggie continued, “Gaton was a friend of Shane's. How could they do that?”
The next day, Shane took Kathleen and me back home. He said he knew the house needed a lot of work, so he thought it might be better if we went to the city for a few weeks to stay with Cathy and Gaton while he got the house all fixed up. He said he’d take us to New York in the morning. Shane seemed to be happier and in a much better mood when my mother wasn’t around him.
On Sunday afternoon, we arrived in the city. Shane took Kathleen and me down to the Lower East Side to a little coffee shop where we met Ted. After we had lunch, we all went to see Ted's girlfriend Lilly and her kids.
At about eight that evening, Shane said, “Let’s take a walk and see if we can find Cathy.”
Shane walked down the street with Kathleen, and I following behind. We must have walked for hours, as Shane kept checking with people he knew, trying to find out where Cathy and Gaton were. All of a sudden, we couldn't find Shane. He seemed to turn the corner and disappear into thin air. It was very late at night and Kathleen and I were now alone in a strange city.
We walked around for about twenty minutes until we found the little coffee shop.
“Kathleen, this is where we had lunch,” I said. “I think I can find Lilly's apartment now and we can get Ted to help us.”
At midnight, I finally found Lilly's house. Lilly told us we could sleep on the sofa, and in the morning, Ted would take us to find our mother.
The next day, Ted, Kathleen and I walked all over the city looking for Shane, Cathy and Gaton, but we couldn't find them. Finally, Ted said, “I know where Grandpa Mack lives. Maybe he knows where Shane or Cathy is.”
Mack and Aggie had been separated for a few years, and Mack was living on the west side of the city.
We walked through the city for an hour until we got to Mack's apartment. As soon as Grandpa Mack saw Kathleen and me, he gave us a big hug and said, “Thank god, you girls are OK. Where have you been?”
I told him about everything that had happened over the last few days. Then Mack told us that he had some bad news.
I started crying. “Did Gaton kill my mother? Oh my god, he killed her!”
“No, Cathy's fine,” Mack said. “I'll take you kids over to see her later today.” Then he said, “Last night Shane got arrested while walking down the street with you and Kathleen.”
“That’s why we couldn't find him,” I said.
“The stupid cops took Shane to the police station and put him under arrest for having barbiturates in his pocket,” Mack said. “He jumped out the window of the police station and is in the hospital in critical condition.”
Mack said Shane tried to tell the cops that his kids had been with him and that he was worried we would be in danger alone in the city. He kept trying to get loose and he pleaded with the cops to let him go back and get his children. He told them when he came back, they could put him in jail for the rest of his life.
The cops told Shane he wasn’t going anywhere and that there hadn’t been any kids with him. They told him the only thing that would keep him from going to jail was if he jumped out a window. Shane immediately broke away from the cops and ran to a large window. He jumped through the glass, still wearing handcuffs, and fell about fifty feet to the concrete sidewalk below.
Mack called Aggie, and I talked to her on the phone. She was happy we were OK. She told me to have Cathy take us to see Shane. She said he was in a lot of pain, but most of all, he was worried sick over losing his girls.
Later that afternoon, Mack took Kathleen and me to the hotel where my mother and Gaton were staying. The next day we went to see Shane, who was happy to see us and was in a good mood, considering all the pain he must have been in. Poor Shane was black and blue all over and had lots of broken bones.
Shane recovered after a month or so in the hospital, and then moved in with Aggie for a few weeks. When I came over to Aggie’s to visit, Shane looked better than he had in years. He had gained some weight, he had gotten a new set of teeth, and he was completely off drugs. He was still talking about fixing up our house and having us kids move back in with him.
But within a few weeks, Shane went back to New York and was back on drugs.
The year I lived with my mother and Gaton was the worst year of my life. Gaton was much worse than Shane ever was. All Gaton ever thought about was taking drugs and stealing money. He’d even steal money from us. I was working after school as a babysitter, taking care of three kids while their mother worked. She paid me twenty-five dollars a week. But Gaton took all my money. He would tell me Cathy needed it for food, but he used it all on drugs. After a few months, I watched the kids for free, since Gaton took my money anyway.
We were poorer living with Gaton in New York than we ever were living in Point Pleasant with Shane. At least when we were with Shane, we never went to bed without dinner. Kathleen and I were hungry all the time. For weeks, all we had in the house to eat was a box of cornmeal we got from a welfare food bank. We didn’t have milk or butter or sugar or salt – just plain cornmeal. Sometimes, we ate bread fried in cooking oil. I remember looking through the garbage between the buildings for milk containers with leftover milk.
Gaton robbed to get money for his drugs. That was his job – he was a thief who spent each and every day robbing people. Later, he’d shoot up the drugs in front of us, passing out with a needle in his arm. I hated it and I hated him for making everything seem so miserable and hopeless. I wondered why my mother would want to stay with such a lowlife. She was much better off with Shane.
Once Gaton came home with forty record albums he had stolen from an apartment. He told Kathleen and me to look through the records to make sure they were in the right covers. While checking the records, we found money hidden inside. We ended up finding sixty dollars. We gave most of it to my mother for food, and with the rest, we went to Orchard Street and bought new clothes. Gaton never found out about the money. I still feel sorry for the poor person who thought the records were a good place to hide their money.
We had to move every few months while living with Gaton. Cathy and Gaton never paid the rent, so we keep getting kicked out of our apartments. I remember one time walking down the streets of the Lower East Side with Kathleen, after being thrown out by the landlord. I had a large pillowcase full of cats and Kathleen had our two dogs on a leash and two more cats in her arms. We were looking for a place that would let us stay the night with all those cats.
By January of 1968, Gaton was gone. He had been arrested for selling drugs and he spent the next year and a half in jail. Shane moved into our little apartment, and stayed with my mother, Kathleen and me. With Shane around, the next few months were almost like living in our house in New Jersey.
One day, Shane decided to wash the kitchen floor. He washed it the same way he washed the floor in our house in Point Pleasant, by sprinkling a whole box of soapsuds on the floor and throwing down five or six buckets of water. He then scrubbed it all with a scrub brush. He got the floor very clean this way, but the woman from downstairs wasn’t happy. She came banging at our door yelling, “What's going on up there? Soapy water is coming through my ceiling!”
Of course, Shane still got in his bad moods. One afternoon, I was in the apartment alone when there was a loud knock at the door. A short time earlier, Shane and Cathy had been fighting and Shane threw a bottle through the window. I opened the door and saw a cop and an angry Spanish man with the bottle in his hand. The man started yelling at me in Spanish and broken English. He said he had almost been killed by the bottle that someone had thrown out our window.
I told them that I hadn’t thrown it, and that my father had. I was so mad at Shane, I told the cop to find him and throw him in jail and that we didn't want him around us. The Spanish man shook his head and left. The cop told me to tell my mother if she didn't want Shane hanging around, she should get a restraining order to keep him away. By the time my mother and father got home, Shane was in a great mood and I forgot all about the man and the cop.
Shane stayed in our apartment most of the time Gaton was in jail. My mother seemed to be happy again and we always had food.
My grandfather Webster died in September of 1968. Just two months later, in November of 1968, my grandma Aggie died.
The day Aggie died, Horris, the only cat Aggie ever gave us, came walking in our fifth floor bedroom window from the fire escape. Horris had been missing since he got out of the pillow case full of cats I had been carrying a year earlier. I don't know how he found us. I think Aggie's spirit brought him back.
A few months after Aggie died, her house was sold with everything in it. A lot my memories of Aggie were sold along with that old house. Our little house on Rue Avenue had been taken over by the town in 1967 for back taxes, and then was burned down by the town of Point Pleasant.
Gaton got out of jail in March of 1969. Shane moved out the same day. The night he came back, Gaton had a fight with my mother. He beat her up, called her all kinds of nasty names, and gave her two black eyes and a broken arm. I asked my mother to leave Gaton, but she refused and said she loved him. After what had happened to Cathy’s mother, I could never understand why she felt that way. Cathy stayed with Gaton until he died.
The next day, I took off to Brooklyn and moved in with Maura. Kathleen was on Easter vacation at her godmother’s when she found out that Gaton was back. She never came home to my mother’s again.
I stayed with Maura for a few months and helped her watch her new baby, Kristine. But Maura's apartment was very small, so she found me another place to stay until I could get my own place.
For the next six months, I lived with Sue Lyon, a movie star who had played Lolita a few years earlier. First I lived with Sue and her husband on Park Avenue in New York and then I moved with them to Hollywood Hills, California. That was a wonderful experience after living with Gaton.
By 1970, I was back in New York. I got a job in a supermarket and had my own apartment.
We didn't see my mother at all for the next seven years, until Gaton died in 1976. My mother moved to Brooklyn, not far from where Kathleen and I had our apartments. The four years after that were some of the best years we had with our mother. She was back to her old self and she was a wonderful grandmother to her grandchildren.
After moving into my own apartment, I saw my father Shane a few times a year. In 1971, I was working in a supermarket on East 67th Street in the city, not far from Shane's lawyer's office. I was about to get on a subway to go home to Brooklyn, when I saw Shane by the curb, looking for something.
“Hi, Shane,” I said. “What are you looking for?”
“I just left my lawyer’s office with a hundred dollars,” he said, “and now I can’t find it.”
I helped him look for awhile, but it was hopeless.
Shane said, “I have a hole in my pocket and I think I must have put the money in that pocket and it fell out.”
About a year later, I again ran into Shane just after he had lost money on the streets of New York. I can only imagine how many times Shane lost his money when I didn't run into him.
By the mid seventies, Maura, Ted and Kathleen had children of their own, and they had birthday parties all the time. In December of 1975, Maura had a first birthday party for her son Dylan at her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She invited Shane, who said he would be there. Maura's husband Kerry went to the Allentown bus station to look for Shane a few times, but he was never there.
That night, when Kerry took me to the bus station to go back to New York, there was Shane. Kerry asked Shane where he had been all day. Shane told us he had gone for a walk in downtown Allentown and forgot all about the party. He then gave Kerry a little flute for Dylan.
The last time I saw my father was in early spring of 1977, at Kathleen's apartment. I was there with my mother. Shane came over to visit with toys for little Joey and Kelly, Kathleen's children. While Kathleen, Cathy and I made a spaghetti dinner, Shane and big Joey, Kathleen's husband, played with the kids.
Three year old Joey looked at Shane's feet and said, “Grandpa Shane, why do you have on two different color shoes?”
Shane had a black leather shoe on one foot and a brightly striped, red, yellow, orange and green slipper on his other foot.
That’s how I’ll always remember my father Shane.
© Copyright 2008 Sheila O’Neill. All rights reserved.
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