Earlier today I chanced on a reference to evil. A few phrases caught my eye: “Deliberate wrongdoing, hurting other people for no reason, committing senseless acts of violence ...”
I found myself oddly hooked. A vague image of a fat face began to form in my head. I went back to work, but all the while I was working, that ugly puss hovered in the back of my mind.
Done at last, I let my mind travel back more than seven decades to a time when I was a wiry, blond-haired kid. A pair of balled up fists and a chunky body showed up. A name fitted itself to an ugly face: Curly.
“Curly!” I said to myself, wondering if the name’s owner was alive after all these years — and unashamedly hoping he wasn’t.
A terrible way to feel? Maybe so, but as you read on you may find yourself agreeing with me.
As far as I know, Curly hated everybody, but he hated me even more. And I know why. Though we were the same height and the same age, I was thin, happy and easygoing, and he was chunky, angry and pugnacious. He easily outweighed me, and so in his mind, he should have been able to beat me up. But he couldn’t. He beat up a lot of other kids, but never me; every time we fought, he lost. But he never quit trying, and as time went on the fights became more and more bitter.
Curly was an odd kid. He didn’t live on our block on Staten Island, but he was often there. Where he lived I never knew. I’m not sure anyone did. He just came and went. He’d show up on our block and play stickball or whatever, but then he’d have a fight and he would disappear for awhile.
Curly and I were complete opposites. I was a happy kid. I was always running around, laughing and having fun. And Curly? I never once saw him smile, and the only time I ever heard him laugh was when he hurt somebody or played a dirty trick on some kid.
I can honestly say I hated Curly. Every time we had a fight I beat him up worse than the time before. In the beginning it was ordinary fistfights and wrestling matches, but he kept raising the ante. It was as though he loved pain!
One winter day we were all standing around doing nothing when Curly showed up after a couple of weeks of absence. Without saying a word, he strolled over to Lombardi’s grocery store, came back, and took an egg he had swiped and broke it atop my wool cap. The result? I beat on him for so long my fists were sore.
Another time we were having fun in the empty lot on the corner. We had an old 8-foot-by-12-foot rug and we were rolling ourselves up in it and then rolling downhill into the deeply recessed lot. Then Curly showed up, and when I rolled myself up in the rug for my turn, the idiot sat on me and almost smothered me. Bad mistake! When I got out of that rug I beat him so senseless they had to pour water on him to bring him to.
And yet he never learned! Not long after that we were all up on Ward Hill, roller-skating on the sidewalk of a park-like circle at the top of a sloping road. It was fun — until Curly showed up. He took one look, saw I was on skates but he was on foot, and dove at me, intending to beat me up while he had the advantage. He forgot what was going to happen if I got a skate off in the scuffle. I took a heavy, solid steel, street skate and beat him about the head and shoulders with it until he was bleeding all over me.
Thankfully, fate stepped in. We moved. First to another part of Staten Island, and from there to New London. I never saw Curly again and only once before today did I ever think of him.
I took the train down to New York when I was 16 and stayed in a YMCA on Manhattan for awhile. One day I went over to the old neighborhood. I was talking to the guys and they showed me a current picture of the old gang. In the background was a 6-foot-tall ape with arms like a gorilla.
“Who’s the ape?” I asked.
“Curly,” someone said, frowning. “He jumped into the picture.”
I was still thin and wiry — just 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 130 pounds. I frowned at the photo thinking that big ape could hold me with one hand and drive me into the ground with the other.
Now you know why I’d just as soon Curly is with his maker.
Besides, they need his type down there.
I’ll bet he wields a mean pitchfork.