The Projects

As a kid I was quiet, withdrawn, and mostly an observer not particularly liking what I saw taking place in my immediate family. Actually, life with mom, pop and my nasty sister was a totally dysfunctional mess. For all intent and purposes I feel I could have been raised by wolves.

I like to say that when I was grown high enough to reach the door knob of our small apartment I was out and gone, escaping into the magical kingdom of the projects, and that is pretty much what happened. 

The Mellet Homes housing project was built smack dab in the middle of Ozzie and Harriet’s middle class America by the U.S. government to house the influx of workers needed to man the local factories and steel mills gone full bore into the war effort. Each barracks type building, containing six small apartments, was packed closely together onto a thirty five or so acre tract of land.

It was a noisy place full of clothes lines, screaming kids, crying babies, and cars. A distinct perimeter existed between ‘us’ poor folks and ‘them’ rich folks. We even had our own school for awhile cause they wanted to keep us riff-raff segregated from Harriet’s little darlings.

I can only imagine how happy she was to see a slum arising in the midst of her beloved neighborhood, but what the hell, the war was on and everybody had to sacrifice a bit for the cause. Ozzie went off to kill Germans while Harriet stayed home and tended her victory garden. And when the vegetables were ripe, project kids stole and ate them.

The project was a great place to grow up. We played Cowboys and Indians with enough kids to field two armies. We played War and Kick the Can well into the night without the thought of perverts or gun slingers. We played football, baseball, basketball. We fought bare knuckled when we were mad, boxed with the gloves on when we weren’t. We wrestled in the mud in the rain. We played doctor with the girls in the woods by day and used their cover by night as a staging area for vandal raids onto Ozzie and Harriet’s turf.

We lived under a pecking order where everybody knew their place. If we messed with the older kids we got beat up. All the adults looked out for us and didn’t mind giving us a slap when we deserved it either.

There were no knives, guns, drugs or any of that stuff. The men would occasionally get drunk and get into fist fights, but no one ever got killed. The women would get into shouting matches sometimes, but all that noise just added a minor chord that made the melody all the more interesting.

Nobody got much for Christmas in the projects, so we would get up Christmas morning, see what we got and go around to all our friends places to barter and exchange until we ended up with something we wanted. ( I’m sure Tommy always kept his pair of socks) Man, we had it all and were living the dream. We were happy cause nobody ever told us how poor we were.

The projects was always a bee hive of activity. I remember when the ice man would deliver large blocks of ice by hand to feed our refrigerator.

I remember the rag man with his cart walking down the street yelling, “Rag man!…….Rag man!” and people would come to buy a clean one or drop their dirty rags in his cart.

I remember when the milk man would come and deliver milk. Us kids would steal orange drink out of the ice bin in the back of his truck while he did it. We’d also ride our bikes alongside a pop truck and help ourselves to a Coke when ever we saw it coming. He’d stop and yell, but he could never catch us.

Nobody had a TV in those days so we used to listen to movies on the radio. Amos and Andy was my favorite, and who could forget The Shadow. When TV came out there was only one family in the whole projects who could afford one. Us kids would gather quietly around their living room window after dark while old man Bear and his wife sat on the couch on the inside, and watch our favorite show Lights Out with them. Wonder if they knew we were even there? Can you imagine that happening today? We would have set off an alarm the minute we bent a blade of his fake grass in today’s world.

I think I was about nine when mom finally bought me a TV. I still remember coming home one evening from the YMCA (where I practically lived) and seeing Sgt. Preston of the Royal Canadian Police playing in my living room . . . WOW one of the happiest days in my life to that point.

In the projects the walls were so thin that if the guy next door sneezed you could hear it. We had these medicine cabinets in the bath room with a slot in them where you dropped razor blades after they were used up. Well, if you looked into the slot and the person in the other apartment had their cabinet door open you could see into their bathroom. Robyn, my girl friend, would accidentally on purpose leave her door open when she took a bath. I would turn out the light on my side and open the door to watch her. Really exciting voyeurism for a guy my age. Ha! I still remember that stuff . . .Robyn I still love you, wherever you are!

I moved from the projects one cold, windy day in the winter of 1957 with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was forced to leave Berry Davis, the love of my life, and my many friends. I was a very unhappy camper when my mom got remarried and forced me to move. The one place where I could feel at home in those days was in the projects among my friends.

The projects were in existence until 1965 or so when they were torn down to make room for a shopping center and a parking lot. The new Walmart now sits directly on top of the spot where I once lived, kinda poetic justice I suppose since I had practically made a career out of stealing from those kind of stores. In the end we all lose. I lost big time the day my mom made me leave the projects and move onto Ozzie and Harriet’s turf.

Intro To Memoir


In the bible there is a verse that says, “young men see visions, old men dream dreams.” Well since I am now in the dreaming phase of my life I thought it may be wise to get some of these dreams on paper before I stop waking up.

Therefore, remembering the frequent question from my young daughter, “Daddy tell me a story about when you were a kid?” I am going to tell a bunch of stories, because everybody, especially if they have lived as long and crazy as I have, has lots of stories to tell.

Although the stories themselves are personal, the experiences, teachings, and hard-way learnings are universal. I am nothing special, I have done nothing, said nothing, nor probably even thought anything that hadn’t been done, said, and thought many times before me. That’s the way life is, and what makes it so damn interesting.

We all start out mostly carrying the same tool box. How we use the tools within it makes the difference. Perhaps by reading my memoirs you will give a thought to the value of your own mind, or at least get a good laugh.

Following are the funny, and sometimes not so funny, experiences I’ve had in my life while on this planet. This writing takes place in a rather haphazard form as it seems to me that form best fits my style as continuity and ambition is something you would never have seen on my resume . . .

In The Beginning

I entered this world on 1 July 1942 at the height of the bloodiest war man had ever created. Perhaps I have selective memory, but to me my family was a perfect microcosm of the violent, bitching, and bleeding planet I was born into.

They tell me my dad was happy that warm summer day when he brought me home from the hospital. He even handed out cigars to the neighbors. But I don’t remember him ever smiling much about anything, nor being proud of much of anything I ever did.

My dad and I never had a normal relationship. I now regret that. I would liked to have heard his side of the story and known what happened in his life to make him like he was. Instead I find myself, these many years later, grieving for the father I never knew.

Dad was born around 1911 in Massillon, Ohio and lived his entire life within thirty miles of his home yet I know very little about him except what my mom told me as I was growing up. I know he had two brothers, that his semi crazy father was a violin playing mailman who used to run his route in a horse and buggy while drunk. I know he was called Jumbo Walters and that he ran in a street gang when young. I know he didn’t mind smacking my mom around when he felt like it and that was quite often. I know he was a pretty selfish dude who thought looking out for himself was far more important than looking out for his kids. I know he left our home after mom divorced him when I was in the third or fourth grade. I know I didn’t like him.

My mom was the one I always stuck up for, but she was certainly no angel because as far back as I can remember she always had a guy coming around when dad was at work. I gotta say though, that she worked hard and always took care of my physical needs. My mom was the one who I went to when I was hurting or in need and I hold no ill will towards her when it comes to going out on my father. Who knows what went on between those two? Whatever it was, it created a very dysfunctional family life for my sister and I.

Mom was the third kid in a six kid family. She was born in Genoa in Perry township and also, like my father, spent her entire life within thirty miles of her birth home. I knew mom’s side of the family quite well as she was always leaving dad and moving us kids back home to grandpa’s and grandma’s house to live.

The longest we’d stay though was only a few months, just long enough to get all messed up with school changes. Dad would then beg mom back to the projects where he would be nice to her for a while, but inevitably he would get mean and the whole nightmare would start up with the beatings again right where it left off. Maybe he couldn’t take mom’s boyfriends, who knows? But as he never hit me much, the way he treated mom was why I hated him so. The day he finally left for good was a very happy one for all of us.

My sister? In one sense, in my opinion, she is a worthless thief who connived and stole mom’s house and money out from under her while she was laying in a nursing home suffering from a stroke and dying. In another sense she is merely the product of a dysfunctional family just like I am. In a way I feel for her, but I realize also the best I can do is to stay away and allow her life to play itself out to her own satisfaction without adding to her drama.

Overall, in my family there was my dad, my mom and my sister in one room, and I in another. Not much connection was there for me save for the necessity of food, clothing, and a place to sleep.

As a kid I was quiet, withdrawn, and mostly an observer not particularly liking what I saw. For all intent and purposes I feel I could have been raised by wolves. I like to say that when I was grown high enough to reach the door knob I was out and gone, escaping into the magical kingdom of the projects cause that’s pretty much what I did.


One story I remember when I was quite small was the day I asked mom if she’d take me and some friends over the hills behind the projects to Frogs Pond so we could do some frog hunting. The pond had been dug in the middle of a working strip mine and was a long way for little kids to walk so mom decided to steal my dads fancy new car while he was sleeping. She was a really ballsy woman cause she didn’t have a drivers license, nor could she even drive. She piled us all into the back seat, backed out of the parking space throwing gravel, and away we went.

Dad’s car had a clutch so when she left it out too fast it stalled the car or jerked it all over the road. Jerk . . . jerk . . . stall. Start . . . jerk . . . jerk . . . stall, all the way to Frogs Pond. Us kids, even mom, were scared and laughing like hell all the way. It was a great trip!

Once we got there though, mom ran into a big rock and got the car stuck in some mud so bad we had to walk home. What she told dad I don’t remember, but he obviously had a complete freak out. I don’t remember any beatings though, but I’m sure there was one.

That’s the one thing I truly loved about my mom, her spunkyness. She was a really fun loving, crazy lady, and good looking to boot. No wonder the guys went for her. My dad may have beaten her, but nothing could dampen her spirit. Her whole life she lived like a wild horse amongst a corral full of nags. My mom, the perpetual party girl. I miss her and forgive her for turning on me because of dementia in her old age.

One story mom told me about my dad was that when they lived with my grandpa and grandma he’d buy a tub of ice cream and not wanting to share it he would send my mom upstairs to their room where she would lower a rope through the window. Once it reached the ground he would tie the rope to the ice cream and have her raise the tub back to the second story room so he and mom could eat it all themselves. Nice.

Another story I remember was one night he was beating my mom when I was about four. I crawled up onto the arm of the couch so I could reach him and when he came over I punched him dead in the nose hard enough to make it bleed. I was always proud of that, even if I did start crying after he hit me in the stomach and knocked me off it. Another time I chased him off mom after threatening to bean him on the head with a cast iron frying pan. There were more, but that’s plenty enough of that.

Another story I remember was when I was older he bought his first car. He was triple proud of that car and was always shining it up. One evening he took us all to the drive-in theater. It was one of the rare times I ever even rode in the thing. He bought my sister and I some popcorn before the movie started, but I messed up and spilled some of it in the back seat. That was the last time I ever got to go to the outdoor movie in his fancy car.

Anther story was when I was a little kid sometimes dad had to babysit me when my mom was working. He’d get all slicked up and drive down town to skid row and park along the street so he could go to his bookie joint or somewhere and leave me in the car alone for what seemed to be a very long time.

The street in front of where he always parked was full of wino’s sitting along the curb drinking and looking ugly. I would get so scared I would hunker down on the back seat floor to hide from them. When he returned he just laughed at me and called me a sissy.

Another story mom told me was that one night when he had a sick chicken he took it to bed with him to keep it warm. It may have been one he stole from the guy next door cause he was known to do that sometimes. Anyways, this is a side of him I never knew and find intriguing.

Another story. In the times we lived at grandpa’s house Sundays were always special. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins would come there to visit, eat, and play cards around the kitchen table. I had a lot of cousins and it was always fun being around grandpa who smiled a lot and was pretty laid back. He was really a pretty cool guy. Grandma was a bit of a grouch though, seems all the Reed women were a bit grouchy.

Story . . . Things weren’t always bad between my sister and me. I do remember some good times that took place when we were both quite young. She is 8 years older than me so I was probably 4 or 5 when this all happened.

Donna and I used to sleep together in the same bed because of the lack of space in our project apartment. At night before we went to sleep we would get out a flashlight, shine it on the wall and she would teach me how to make animal shadows by cupping my hands in different ways. A small thing perhaps, but I enjoyed it.

Another thing we did was dance together and make up these little routines to act out in front of mom. This was always great fun also.

Funny thing is that I have very little memory of Donna after she left the room for good. I know she did once she got too old to sleep with me any longer and I think maybe she lived somewhere else, maybe with an Aunt, cause there was only one other bedroom and my mom and dad had it.

I remember she got caught stealing from the neighbor once when she was supposed to be babysitting their kid. She always had a lust for money and stuff so she became a thief at an early age, I guess. Too bad.

One day after we grew up and married she told me that all her life she hated my guts because I took away her glory of being the only child. After that I sorta stayed away from her cause I don’t trust people who hate me. 🙂 Anyways throughout life we have been mostly distant at best, but there were moments when we tried to be friends, at least I did till I realized she was just setting me up for another con. Sucks. I wish I would have had a brother though, mom said I did, but he died shortly after he was born.

Give Jimmy A Gun You Better Run!

True Story:

The assassin knew the risks involved in this mission were great, perhaps even suicidal, but he didn’t care. With quiet trepidation he took one last mental check, stepped from his hiding place and disappeared into the dark of the moonless night. A strong sense of danger nearly overpowered his resolve as he crept around the side of the house, but hard won mental conditioning kept him moving forward.

Upon reaching the designated kill zone he stopped, listened for movement, took a quick look around and disappeared between a large tangle of bushes growing beneath the kitchen window that lacked screening and was wide open.

Adrenaline pumped wildly through the assassin’s veins as he spotted the shirtless target standing before a sink washing dishes. A radio blared from the living room. With music playing and the man’s back to the window, the assassin, knowing this was going to be an easy hit, prepared for immediate action.

Silently he laid his rifle across the sill and took aim. One shot, center mass between the shoulder blades, one kill. Breath in . . . slowly . . . hold . . . relax . . . squeeze the trigger . . . BANG! . . .

A frightened, animal like, yelp rips through the quiet evening . . . followed by a crescendo of violent cursing as the target drops the dish he was drying and tries to reach the pain emanating from the center of his back.

Mission accomplished!

The assassin prepares to escape and evade, but now realizes he has fallen into the trap every rookie fears and many live to regret . . . not giving enough thought to the small detail of getting away. He had gone even one step further by neglecting to consider his escape at all. The opportunity to kill had overpowered his reasoning so completely he had thrown all caution to the wind, and was about to pay a high cost for his foolishness.

The stricken enemy had not died, nor had he even fallen down, instead the wounded man spun around and faced his startled son now fear frozen on the other side of the window. “JIMMY!” he shouted. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU . . . . !“

Although the assassin had seen his enemy angry many times before he had never seen him like this. Filled with the dread of impending doom he dropped his rifle in the bushes and ran head on into the night. Rounding the corner of the house, he dove into the bushes surrounding his previous hideout hoping the enemy would think he had continued running.

Hearing no one chasing him, the killer quietly peered back around the corner in time to watch his father burst through the screen door, dash across the stoop and drop to the yard where he found the BB gun lying beneath the bush. The BB gun that he, himself, had just days before purchased as a gift for his son.

The assassin watched in horror as the target swiftly picked up his new rifle and swung it against a tree hard enough to bend it in half and ruin any hopes he would ever have of using it again. He was stunned. Tears streamed down his cheeks. A sob broke free from his heaving chest as he watched the beloved rifle break into two pieces and be thrown to the ground by the enraged enemy.

A moment of silence ensued. . . then the dreadful roar of the enemy’s voice bellowing full throttle into the night. “JIMMY! YOU GET BACK HERE! NOW!!”

Knowing full well his hope of escape is nil, the assassin gives himself up to fate and meekly surrenders. Though certain he will be given over to the torturer and his water board, he realizes all is not lost. Head down in faked shame, he shuffles slowly back to the scene of his crime. No one notices the small smile breaking the straight line of his lips.