1976-1977 (19-20 years-old)
Back then, the word crisis intervention never entered my vocabulary. Now, looking back on it, I was involved in one crisis after another for the better part of that next year. The first one after Kevin’s episode, turned into one helluva disaster.
I was sitting at home minding my own business when I heard a knock on my door. Two fifteen-year-old boys stood there on my front porch, both bombed out of their gourds.
“You need to come with us,” one boy said in a drunken slur. “Some girl wants to commit suicide and she took a whole mess of pills! You need to hurry, Tom!”
I stepped outside and said, “Where is this girl?”
And one boy pointed away to the north, while the second kid enthusiastically jabbed his finger off to the west.
I shook my head and said, “Get on your bikes, I’ll follow behind you in my van.”
So we tried that for the first two blocks, until both boys drunkenly collided in the middle of the street and crashed their bikes.
So I loaded their bikes into the van and loaded the drunk boys in, as well, and we drove off down the street for another three blocks. “Right there!” the one boy said as we pulled up next to an old adobe apartment building over on Ballard street.
The boys led the charge inside, and I followed reluctantly when I heard loud rock music pounding out of a cranked stereo. The boys burst into the room, both pointing at a rather hefty girl seated on the floor in a drunken, drug-induced stupor. She had at least ten cellophane wrappers scattered about her on the floor. I sorted through them, and noticed the crowd in the room were giving me hostile looks.
“Look,” one girl said, “if she wants to killer herself, just let her! Besides she only took like forty diet pills! She can’t die from that, just turn skinny!”
I ignored her and the comments of others in the room, and tried to get the hefty girl to her feet. She didn’t resist until I had her up on her feet. She then tried to push me away, and so I placed her in a basket hold, where I crossed her arms across her chest, and thought I had control of her.
The loud-mouthed girl walked up, blocking our path. “You’re so stupid to try to kill yourself with diet pills! You’re just a fat, stupid bitch!”
The hefty girl I was holding suddenly came to life and she hollered back, “Shut your mouth! You’re the stupid bitch!”
So loud mouthed girl hauled off to slap hefty girl, and hefty girl ducked and Whap! I got struck right in the face.
Hefty girl took that moment to twist free of my hold and plopped down on the floor, refusing to go anywhere.
The two boys who had summoned me seemed to be the only ones in the whole place who had any sense, and as drunk as they were, they tried to help me get the girl up off the ground.
Then, the party crowd turned ugly, and despite my best efforts to rescue the hefty girl, I ended up shoving my way out of that crowded room.
Followed by the two boys, I walked out of that party and drove down the street to Castle’s liquor store where I phoned a Havelock cop that I knew to be on duty. He met me and the two boys back at the party, and he and I went in and escorted the girl out of there.
While I went home and went to bed, the officer drove the girl to the hospital where she had her stomach pumped, which basically saved her life.
But the next day, word on the street spread like wildfire. I had narced her off to the cops, and therefore I was a damned narc.
The hefty girl’s brother, Fisher, is the one who started the nasty rumors, and before the week was out, my van was spray painted with the word NARC in bright yellow letters, nails were shoved into my tires, and someone actually smashed in my windshield.
Who said life was fair? Oh, some of the stories that spread after that were quite funny. Someone claimed I had kicked in the door to this drug dealer’s apartment, and that I and a team of cops put a gun to his head and made him narc off all his contacts.
And every time, Fisher, the hefty girl’s brother would drive by me in his car, he would shout, “Narc!”
So for all my trouble, I started to get this bad reputation. It didn’t help when two weeks later, two older guys bought liquor for these two fourteen-year-old girls. They planned to get them drunk so they could have sex with them.
I happened to be driving by Ballard swimming pool, when the two girls, Julie and Candy ran out into the street and were nearly struck by the car in front of me.
I parked my van, and leaped out and snagged both girls and led them over to the pool. Both were so drunk, and Julie barfed and then threw up green grapes all over my new sandals.
Some young boy came up then to talk with me, while I kept the girls seated next to the fence to keep them running off. The kid pointed to Bob and Kent standing over by the bike racks, and he told me what was up and why they had plied the girls with alcohol.
I ignored them and went to use the phone in the pool office. I phoned Julie’s father and told him the situation, including the fact that the two hoodlums had planned to take advantage of his daughter. I suppose I could have left that part out, but I wanted him to get a clear picture of what was up.
Lyle Hunter came flying down there to the pool in his van. When he squealed to a stop in the parking lot, he leaped out holding a .12 gauge shotgun.
Lyle then started shouting at me to point out who had bought the alcohol for his daughter.
It would have certainly been a Kodak moment to point out Bob and Kent frozen by the bike racks, but had I done so at that point, I think both would have been severely mauled by the buckshot of Lyle Hunter’s shotgun.
I managed to calm Lyle down long enough to get his shotgun away from him. He then ran back to his van and pulled out a deflated bike tire. He ran at his daughter and her drunken friend and as he proceeded to whip their butts with that inner tube, he shouted, “Spare the rod and spoil the child! Spare the rod and spoil the child!”
I had to keep myself from laughing out loud, while the kid with me asked, “What is he spouting off about?”
“It’s a verse out of the Bible,” I told him. “Those girls are lucky they outlawed stoning rebellious children, or else Julie and Candy would gotten stoned for sure.”
The kid just looked at me, puzzled.
As Lyle drove the two girls away, I turned to find that Bob and Kent had hightailed it, so I went looking for them.
When I found them down at Havelock Park, I was pretty heated up, so I grabbed hold of the front of their shirts and slammed them back against the stone wall of the north shelter.
Before I could properly lecture them as I had planned to do, this big guy named Tom Simants came from out of the shelter, eyeing me rather sheepishly. He said, “I don’t really want to fight you, Tom. But if hurt my friends here, I am going to have to do something. Understand?”
I turned to see I had quite a crowd by then, and no one was glad to see me there, having heard the rumor that I was a narc.
So I explained to Tom Simants what these two goons had done, and when I finished making my case, Tom said, “For that, I am just going to stand back. Go ahead and kick their asses. You have my permission.”
Later on, Tom Simants became Al Simants in my book Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball.
That night is the night I formulated the idea to include real characters in the book. And I included several kids I had worked with as main characters, Roy, George, Phil, Jack, Julie, the two Kevins, Tom, and Wendy. Each of them made an impact on me and that is why they found a place in my book.
Jack Davis called me late one night to say Kevin, (Kevin who took the horse tranquilizer), was off on another rampage. He had attacked Wendy down at the park, claiming she had the Devil in her and his mission was to beat him out of her.
Shortly after Jack called, I got a call from Kevin’s parents, and they read me the suicide note that Kevin left them. They then asked me if I could go out and find him and bring him home safely.
So I went and recruited Jack, and we ended up driving 30 miles away to Linoma Beach along the Platte River. We drove up to the gate, but we couldn’t drive through because they had these spike strips up across the driveway. We spotted this huge bonfire and a mob gathered around it, but we didn’t see any sign of Kevin. So we drove on back to Lincoln.
Jack said we ought to check with Joe Venhaus because he was the last person to have known to be with Kevin that night.
So I drove us over to Joe’s, where I had Jack walk up to his basement window to knock and get Joe’s attention.
I saw Jack walk up to the window, but before he pounded, he got this strange look on his face and came walking back to my van.
“You want to talk to Joe,” Jack said, grinning, “you go wake him up because he’s laying there sprawled on his bed naked as a jaybird!”
“Jack,” I said, “just go back and wake him up. Please. I can’t go back to Kevin’s parents and tell them I didn’t find him. Just bang on his window and ask if him where he last seen Kevin at.”
Jack muttered all the way back to Joe’s window, but he did manage to wake him up, and all the while he was talking to him through the open basement window, Jack had his head turned to one side, because Joe was so drunk he didn’t even realize he was naked.
Jack came back to my van, laughing about it, saying, “Jaybird Joe said Kevin is still out at Linoma! So we probably need to drive back out there and get him, right?”
“Damn!” I said. “Yes, and this time we need to go in there to that party and find Kevin.”
Jack said, “What if he doesn’t come with us? I mean, you know how stubborn Kevin can be.”
“Oh,” I said, “he’ll come with us, because we ain’t giving him a choice.”
And that’s pretty much the way things turned out, as well.
Jack and I made our way back to Linoma, and we ended up walking right into the middle of a party thrown by a gang of bikers from Omaha.
Jack and I found Kevin seated in a drunken stupor on a picnic table beside the raging fire. I tapped him on the knee and said, “Kevin? Hey, Kevin, you need to come with us, okay?”
Kevin looked up at Jack. “Holy shit!” he said. “It’s Jack Davis!”
He then looked up at me. “Holy shit! It’s Tom Frye!”
I said, “Kevin, get up now and come home with us. Your mom and dad are worried about you. You left them that suicide note, and they want to see that we get you safely home.”
Kevin stuck out his chin and defiantly said, “No way! I ain’ going home! I am partying with my friends! So you two just pack your asses back up in your van and drive on back to Havelock!”
Jack tried to grab onto Kevin, and several of the bikers nearby took note of Jack’s gesture. I knew things would spiral out of control, so I leaned down and got right in Kevin’s face, and I snarled, “You get your ass up and you pack your ass into my van, or I’ll be kicking your ass all the way back to Havelock!”
And somewhere in Kevin’s drunk and befuddled mind, he realized that I was serious, for I had never talked to him like that before. He even grinned at me and asked, “Are you serious, Tom? You would really hit me if I don’t go with you?”
“Try me,” I whispered to him, giving him my best crazed Mel Gibson glare I could offer.
Kevin then allowed me to lift him up off the picnic bench and Jack and I led him back through the crowd, all the while aware we were getting angry looks from all those bikers.
But we managed to get Kevin home, where he was confronted by his mom and dad about his suicide note.
Jack and I left there that night, both of us wondering if Kevin would ever make it to twenty.
It was a cold December night. Snow was falling in mad torrents just outside my den window. When the phone rang, I answered it and the mother on the other end broke down and started crying, then asked me to go find her son who was wandering around Havelock with a loaded pistol.
I found 16-year-old Josh down at Havelock Park, seated in the middle shelter, his pistol clutched in his grasp. “Hi, Josh,” I said, stopping ten feet from the shelter. “Can I sit down?”
He raised the gun, waving it carelessly in my direction. “That depends,” he said. “You gonna try and stop me?”
I glanced at the gun. “You know I am. That is why I am here. Can I sit down?”
“Suit yourself,” Josh said, pointing the pistol at his head. “But you try to stop me and this gun will go off.”
I crossed those ten feet, thinking any second that he would pull the trigger. But he didn’t, and as I sat down across from him I said, “What the problem?”
“I am all fucked up,” Josh muttered, tears in his eyes. “My whole fucking life is all fucked up, and I just want to die.”
I said, “Tell me about it. But do me a favor while you’re talking. Put the gun down.”
Josh cocked it, placed the muzzle beneath his chin, and said, “Promise you won’t try to grab it from me?”
I made a slow gesture with my hand. “Put it down, Josh. I promise I won’t touch the gun.”
And he did, thumbing the hammer back in place, and putting it on the table between us. He talked then about his mental illness, Bi-polar Disorder, Manic Depression, Obstinance Defiance Disorder. Josh was plagued by demons, and they were legion.
“I just want to die,” he said with a heavy sigh.
“Okay,” I told him, “I get that part. But what am I going to tell your mom if you do that? How am I going to explain to her that I failed to stop you?”
“Is that who called you?” Josh asked. “My mom sent you out in this snow storm to find me? How did you know I would be down here?”
I told him, “Lucky guess. And now that I can no longer feel my feet, I don’t know how I am going to manage to get out in the street to my van. Got any suggestions?”
Josh eyed me blankly at first, and I thought for a moment that I had lost him. He then reached down and picked up the gun. And for long moments, his life hung in the balance. I could not grab for it, because I had promised him I wouldn’t touch it. No, I could only sit and watch as he finally handed it across the table to me and said, “It’s loaded. Be careful.”
I unloaded it before we climbed into my van. We talked some more on the ride back to his house. His mom was relieved when he walked in the door and I handed her the gun and the six bullets. Josh went on down the hallway to his bedroom and closed the door.
“How can I ever thank you?” Katie asked.
“There’s no need for that,” I said, but as I stood there I spotted a stone lion head resting against the kitchen wall. “What is that?” I asked her.
“It’s lion head,” she said. “Josh made it. Would you like to have it?”
“Sure,” I said, picking it up and looking it over. “I’ll put it in my backyard. Thanks.”
Two months later, Josh’s mom drove down my alley one day, finding me at work in my backyard. Katie told me Josh was now on meds and doing much better. When she finished, she spotted my stone lion head spewing water into my fountain and she jokingly said, “Hey, that is really cool. I want that back.”
“No way,” I said, smiling. “I love that thing.”
Katie drove away, promising to keep me posted on Josh’s progress. I went back to work in my yard, lulled by the flow of water from my lion’s head.
That lion head ended up in her backyard two months later on her Birthday.
In those next few years I became involved in youth work around the clock.
I went from one crisis intervention to another, all the while picking up lessons for days ahead.
To keep things in perspective, I often drove past the spot on 37th and St. Paul where Dennis Grant had slammed into that truck and left this life. The impact his death had on me was enormous in the scope of things. I would see a kid heading for a dead-end, and I could not help but reach out and attempt to steer him away from such a tragic ending.
Driving past that corner, I would look back to places on the map: Juvenile Court, the Detention Home, the hospital room where Kevin was placed after taking four different drugs, and the fire I had out at Stephen’s Creek, when I burned my flag and 900 pages of Wings like Eagles, vowing I would write stories to impact the lives of troubled kids.
Looking back in time like that, fully convinced me there was a purpose in the old days; a purpose in me being a juvenile delinquent; a purpose in Denis dying and bringing me to a crossroads in my own life.
As a youth worker, I often felt like that little boy who discovered a hole in the dike, and placed his finger in it to stop the water from rushing out, only to find that more holes were appearing as the dike began to crumble.
Although I started my career at 16 as a volunteer for the Juvenile Court system, at 18, I proposed a runaway shelter to the YMCA. The powers that be there were very receptive to my idea, and although I was too young to become a counselor there, I became a street contact for the Freeway Shelter for runaways. It was my first paid job working with youth. I was paid to go to concerts, sporting games, recreation centers, and middle schools and high schools to pass out flyers and offer kids information about the shelter.
Shortly after that job ended, I applied for a job at the newly developed Jennie B. Harrel Attention Center. I remember being told that at 19, I was too young to become a Juvenile Care Specialist at the center, which was ironically named after the same lady who had locked me up in the old Westview Detention Home.
Determined to work there, I went to juvenile court’s Judge Nuernberger and asked him to write me a recommendation letter. The Judge did so, and I was hired as the youngest member of the staff there.
On one of my training days, the other staff and I were passing through the lobby of the center when we spotted a huge framed picture of Jennie Harrel hanging there on the wall. One female counselor remarked, “She looks like my grandma. I bet she was a sweetheart.”
I surprised everyone there when I said, “Hell, no, she was a royal bitch! I should know, I spent two nights with her locked up at the old detention center! And believe me, she was far from being a sweetheart!”