Toward the end of the summer, one of the other boys from the third floor, Larry Hanson, told me, “They’re gonna have a huge rock concert for three days over in upstate New York, just over the border.” He lowered his voice, leaned closer, and said, “If we hitchhike, we could be there in a couple hours.”
The concert was in Woodstock, New York and I decided to go although it was a stupid thing to do. We slipped out of the school on Friday morning, just after breakfast. We figured that no one would know we were gone until lights out at eleven o’clock .
Using the back roads through the small villages and towns we arrived in New Haven by early afternoon. In those days, New Haven, the home of Yale University, was a hotbed of the counter-culture, anti-Vietnam-War set, and a youth-centered city. The Green, a park in the middle of the city, was occupied by hundreds of young people. Tables gave out information on the anti-war movement, the Black Panthers and the Yippie Party, guitar music, burning incense, and dancing. Several local Episcopalian churches gave out free food: brown rice and apples.
Hanson and I forgot about Woodstock and stayed on the Green for the rest of the day and into the night, meeting girls and sitting in large circles listening to lectures on racism, injustice, and the war.
Around midnight we were in the back of a van with a dozen other kids, smoking grass, one joint after the other, until there was so much smoke I couldn’t see the person sitting next to me. I had never smoked a joint before, but after a while I managed to smoke two, and had entered into a detailed conversation with the kid seated next to me about the wonders of the tuna fish sandwich.
“And then there is the mayonnaise,” I said, and then, after contemplating the wonders of mayonnaise for what might have been either ten seconds or ten minutes, I added, “God! Doesn’t mayonnaise sound just so perfect right now! Man, what a great word—mayonnaise.”
My speech on the wonders of my favorite condiment probably would have gone on all night, but after a knock on the van’s back door someone opened it, letting out a massive cloud of white smoke into the faces of two New Haven cops. We were all too stoned to run, but I had it in my mind to go find a tuna sandwich and started walking away.
“Hey,” a cop yelled at me. “Marco Polo, where you goin’?”
I snapped out of it and said, “With you?”
“You bet your ass you are,” he said. “Get in the wagon.”
We meekly piled into the paddy wagon when it arrived and were brought down to the central police station. When Hanson, who was several years older than I was, learned we were going to be booked as adults and tossed into jail, he told the cops we were minors from St. John’s.
We were driven across town in a squad car to the juvenile detention center, actually a big house with bars on the windows, set in the middle of a bad neighborhood. Tossed into a locked, completely dark room, I felt around, found the bed, and fell asleep.
The next morning we were back at St. John’s under room detention. I was allowed out for school and meals, and that was it.
At a series of meetings, none of which I was allowed to attend, the school social worker, the state social worker, Father MacDonald, my teacher, and the prefects asked the question, what was wrong with me? Would I run away from the school? Of course, if they had asked me, I would have told them, but they didn’t ask. They determined that I was suffering from some sort of hostility, and they wrote that in their files, and then they all went back to what they were doing.
As an additional part of my punishment I was to work as the chapel steward, cleaning the church and preparing the altar. One day, while working in the sacristy, I found a twenty-gallon jug of the cheap wine used in the communion service. I had never tasted wine, so I decided to take a swig, using the chalice as my cup. I liked the sweet taste, finished off the cup, and poured myself another. I liked that, too, and poured myself a third, and then took the bottle and the chalice and my drunken self out to the steps that lea to the altar, sat down, and relaxed. And that was where they found me later that night, sound asleep, empty bottle and sacred chalice in hand.
A prefect shook me awake and I answered by throwing a punch. More prefects came and more punches were thrown until they overpowered me. I was taken to a hospital to sober up, and the next morning, before breakfast, a state social worker arrived with my belongings packed into brown paper bags. He put me in into a black sedan with the state logo emblazoned on the side doors and I was gone.
In 1962, six year old John Tuohy, his two brothers and two sisters entered Connecticut’s foster care system and were promptly split apart. Over the next ten years, John would live in more than ten foster homes, group homes and state schools, from his native Waterbury to Ansonia, New Haven, West Haven, Deep River and Hartford. In the end, a decade later, the state returned him to the same home and the same parents they had taken him from. As tragic as is funny compelling story will make you cry and laugh as you journey with this child to overcome the obstacles of the foster care system and find his dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. He is the author of numerous non-fiction on the history of organized crime including the ground break biography of bootlegger Roger Tuohy "When Capone's Mob Murdered Touhy" and "Guns and Glamour: A History of Organized Crime in Chicago."
His non-fiction crime short stories have appeared in The New Criminologist, American Mafia and other publications. John won the City of Chicago's Celtic Playfest for his work The Hannigan's of Beverly, and his short story fiction work, Karma Finds Franny Glass, appeared in AdmitTwo Magazine in October of 2008.
His play, Cyberdate.Com, was chosen for a public performance at the Actors Chapel in Manhattan in February of 2007 as part of the groups Reading Series for New York project. In June of 2008, the play won the Virginia Theater of The First Amendment Award for best new play.