One night, when I was 15 years old, my CCD teacher called me, out of the blue. I was excited at first, thinking he was going to tell me class had been cancelled.
“Danny? It’s George LaRoche, your CCD teacher.” This was followed by an awkward pause. I waited for the good news: that class was postponed until further notice due to a flood in the church basement or something. Instead he asked me how I was doing and what I was up to that night. After I responded with “good” and “nothing”, he asked if I had any career aspirations.
“Well,” I said, still perplexed and a bit uneasy, “I really want to be an actor.”
“Really,” he said, in a drawn out, surprised, mildly aroused tone. “What kind of actor?”
“What do you mean, ‘what kind of actor’?”
“Like a soap opera actor? Or do you want to be a huge movie star and see your name in lights?”
I should have hung up the phone right there, but something in his voice made him sound like a genie, about to grant me three wishes.
“I don’t know. I guess I want to be a movie star, like Tom Cruise.”
I sat on my living room couch and talked to this man for another twenty minutes, while my dad slept in his recliner and my mom watched Jeopardy, digging her rubber-tipped tooth cleaner into her gums, constantly shush-ing me and never once asking who I was on the phone with, even when I said things like “I wouldn’t have an issue with sex scenes. Duh!”
“I know Kevin Bacon, ya know,” he said.
“Yah. Him and his brother. They’re gonna be in town this weekend, staying at the Sheraton in Newton Corner. Kevin wants me to meet him for dinner at the hotel bar.”
This sounded entirely plausible to me. An A-list movie star coming to a suburb of Boston, for no discernible reason, staying at the Sheraton and having dinner with my CCD teacher on a Saturday night.
“I was thinking we could go see a 7:00 movie and then swing by and say hello to him. How’s that sound?”
“That sounds awesome, are you kidding me?”
“All right, then. I’ll call you on Friday.”
I hung up the phone and turned to my folks. “Who is…Harper Lee!” my mom shouted at the TV, while my dad snored.
The next day at school I told my friend, Jason, about the phone conservation. Jason also wanted to be an actor. “Dude, that sounds kinda weird,” he said. “I mean, maybe the guy does know Kevin Bacon, but it wasn’t too cool to be calling you up like that and asking you to the movies. Don’t ya think?”
“True, true.” Then a thought occurred to me. “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll tell him you’re my cousin, visiting from out of town, and that you have to come along. That way at least I’m not alone, and also it’s a chance for you to meet Kevin Bacon.”
Jason let out a long breath. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
On Friday I told my parents about my movie plans with George LaRoche. My mom looked skeptical; my dad looked indifferent. “I don’t even know this guy. I think he should come in here and meet us, and not just pick you up and drive you away to some abandoned house somewhere,” my mom said. It was as though she expected this strange CCD teacher to be a serial killer, and thought he should at least introduce himself before abducting me.
On Saturday Jason came over to my house at 5:30. My mom looked relieved to see him. “Oh good, Jason’s going with you. Good.” I appreciated the concern, but it didn’t exactly inspire confidence, either.
“Mom, I told you this guy knows Kevin Bacon, right?”
“Who’s Kevin Bacon?”
At 6:55 Jason and I waited at my living room window, staring out at the street. At precisely 7:00 a mid-80s white Cadillac, the car you think of when you think Fat Gangster, pulled up in front of my house. “What’s this guy’s name again?” Jason asked as he peered out from behind the curtain at a car that would have more aptly suited Elvis or Liberace.
“George,” I said. “George LaRoche.”
“Jesus,” Jason muttered.
We watched as LaRoche got out of the car. He was a large man, what would today be categorized as “Big and Tall”, though far more Big than Tall. With his left hand gripping the hood of the Cadillac he pulled/swung himself out of the driver’s seat, hiked up his tan trousers and proceeded up my front walk. He wore a blue blazer and a white collared shirt, the same outfit he wore every Tuesday night at CCD, or at the 5:00 Sunday mass when he handed out Communion wafers. His face was beaded with sweat. His hair was curly and light brown, with a mullet in the back, exactly like the porn star, Ron Jeremy. He even had the same bushy mustache, to boot.
The doorbell rang. I answered it. “Hey George,” I said.
“Hi, Danny.” His voice was high-pitched and nasally and he spoke with a thick Boston accent.
He entered my house. Both my parents approached him, their right hands outstretched. “So, you teach Danny’s CCD class,” my mom confirmed.
“Yes. I’m heavily involved with the church,” George said. This seemed to ease my mom’s nerves.
He shook my dad’s hand. “Hiya doin. Dan Pellegrini,” my dad said, chewing his gum, then turned and promptly walked away before George finished saying hello back.
“George, this is my cousin, Jason,” I said. “He’s visiting from New Hampshire.” My mom looked puzzled. I stared at her and shook my head discreetly.
“Oh.” George’s eyes lit up for a moment. “Nice to meet you, Jason. Where in New Hampshire are you from?”
“Um, Hampton Beach.” It was the only place either of us knew up there. We couldn’t even name the state capitol. Probably still couldn’t.
“Well,” George said. “Arachnophobia’s playing in Dedham at 7:35, so I guess we should get going.” We followed George down the front steps, toward his car. I looked back at my house, just in case I wouldn’t be seeing it ever again.
Once the Cadillac turned onto Lewis Street, out of view of my house, George said, “Oh. Bad news. Kevin didn’t make it into town this weekend.”
I peered into the backseat and looked at Jason. We exchanged a dubious glance. “That sucks,” I said, turning back up front. “What was he doing here, anyway?”
“Meeting with a producer, I guess.”
“Boston. But he likes to stay at the Sheraton.”
I looked back at Jason again, who was grimacing, as if to say, Bullshit. Not the Four Seasons, the Plaza, or the Lenox House. The Sheraton, in Newton Corner. Where I had my junior high prom.
“I talked to another friend of mine, though, who lives in New York City.” He emphasized the words New York City as though he were giving driving directions to a foreigner. “He’s an accountant at Bloomingdale’s and handles all of Tom Cruise’s personal shopping. He gave me this.” George reached into the inside pocket of his sport jacket, took out a folded piece of white paper and handed it to me. I opened it up. It had a perforated edge, like old Dot Matrix printer paper. Printed on it, in faded type, was a list of five or six items.
I read the list out loud. “Fahrenheit cologne…Calvin Klein underwear…Body Glove spandex shorts…” I looked up at George. “What is this?”
“Some of the things Tom Cruise likes,” he said in his bouncy tone, with that intense Boston accent. Tom Cruise sounded like Twam Karoowiz. “My friend says they have to order these things special for Tom. I thought you might like it.”
“Um, thanks,” I said, unsure what to do with the piece of paper. I handed it back to Jason as though it were a piece of evidence in a murder investigation. He examined it then looked back up to me, his glazed-over eyes corroborating the note’s meaning:
We were both going to die.
We made it through the film, Arachnophobia, without incident, although our seating arrangement was peculiar: George sat in the middle, barely fitting into his chair, his wide legs bulging through the armrests, a large bucket of popcorn held firmly between his thighs. Throughout the film he would offer the popcorn to us, but rather than hold the bucket out he would nudge us on the shoulder and then nod between his legs. “Have some popcorn,” he’d whisper in his squeaky Boston accent. As far as I remember, neither Jason nor myself accepted. Intuitively we knew how wrong it was.
On the drive back to Newton, up I-95 North, George showed off by gunning his Cadillac up to 85 miles per hour. “What do you boys think of this?” he said, leaning back and grabbing the steering wheel with one hand while the automatic transmission bucked into fifth gear and his 25-foot car gradually increased in speed, the odometer needle slowly creeping upward. Jason, now in the front seat, looked back at me over his shoulder, smirking. “You boys like to go fast?” Just as he said that a Porsche 911 tore past us at close to 100 mph, cut us off, then swerved out of sight. It was kind of sad and pathetic, like a 70 year-old man telling you to check out his fastball, then go into a wind-up and fracture his hip.
Once we reached the off ramp to Newton, I felt relieved, safer. I rolled down the back window to breathe in some of my familiar, hometown air. I felt Jason’s tension dissipate as well. Then George said, “I’ve got some presents for you back at my house, if you guys want to stop there before I take you home.”
“I don’t think so, George. It’s getting late.” I looked at my watch. It was 9:35.
“Are you sure? What if I told you I had some of those things from Tom Cruise’s shopping list?”
Jason looked back at me, raised his eyebrows and gave a furtive little shrug. I thought about it. What could this guy possibly do to us? We were two healthy, young adolescents. He was a big fat man who broke out into a sweat whenever he drove fast. Besides, I had just discovered materialism. I liked to spend money from my part-time job on things like $65 hair treatments and $120 Ray-Ban sunglasses, anything to fashion myself after Tom Cruise. The summer before 9th grade I saved up caddying money and bought a leather bomber jacket and cowboy boots. I wore them on the first day of high school; the jacket was two sizes too big and the boots were stiff and felt like high heels, clicking and clacking as I strutted down the main corridor toward my locker, 11th and 12th grade girls pointing at me, covering their mouths, laughing.
The way I saw it, if the items were free, and if Tom Cruise had the same ones, I was game, even if it meant being chopped up into 40 pieces and then molested.
The Cadillac pulled into the driveway of a two-family house a couple miles from my own. George got out and we followed him through the front door. “Do you live here alone?” Jason asked.
“I live with my brother,” George said. I felt a weight lift from my neck and shoulders. “Don’t worry; he’s out right now.” That same weight then clamped back onto me like an evil spirit angling for a piggyback ride.
George lived on the first floor, essentially a two-bedroom apartment with a spacious common area—an open kitchen that looked out into the living room. The three of us sat down at the kitchen table and George asked if we’d like something to drink.
“Do you have any iced tea?” I asked. George had his back to us and was looking through a cabinet next to the fridge. He didn’t respond. “Or a coke, if you have it?”
“I was thinking maybe you’d like something stronger. Like a glass of scotch.”
“Sure, I’ll have some,” Jason said. I turned to him and mouthed “No.”
George turned around, holding a bottle of Dewar’s and two rocks glasses. “Are you sure you don’t want any, Danny?”
I nodded and watched as George set the glasses on the table with his pudgy, sausage link fingers. He dropped two cubes in each glass and filled them with scotch. “Well, I have something else for you, anyway.” He raised his glass to Jason. “Cheers, Jason. Glad you could come on this adventure.”
I felt the sudden impulse to smash the bottle of Dewar’s over his head, probably because I felt left out of their little scotch club.
George took a drink of his scotch and then waited for Jason to do the same. Jason took a small sip, winced, coughed, then set the glass down. “Wow,” he said.
“Strong, isn’t it,” George said. “You’ll get used to it.”
Just then the front door opened. A man who bore a similar resemblance to George—only much thinner—entered the house with a woman behind him. “Hey Richie. Guys, this is my brother, Richie, and his girlfriend, Naomi. Richie, Naomi, this is Jason and Danny.”
Richie gave his brother a funny look, a look that said I know you’re holding something behind your back. I’m not an idiot. I can see the blood dripping on the floor. “Nice to meet you,” he said, his eyes darting from George to us to George. “I forgot my thermos. I’m just gonna grab it and I’ll be out of your way.” He walked into one of the closed off rooms, presumably his bedroom. George followed him in there and closed the door behind him. Richie’s girlfriend, Naomi, stood in the kitchen and waited. She wasn’t bad looking; Jason nodded at her and said “hey”. She just stared back at us and said nothing.
I was about to stand up and announce that we had to leave and that we were walking home when the bedroom door opened and George and Richie came walking out. Richie—thermos in hand—hastily moved to the door, took his girlfriend’s hand and left the house, without saying goodbye. George walked back into the kitchen, holding a paper bag. He handed it to me.
“Here ya go. All yours.”
I looked at him. I looked at Jason. I set the bag down on the kitchen table, opened it and reached inside. First I removed a box. It was white, like a pastry box, with the word Fahrenheit printed on the top. I opened the box. Inside were hundreds of sample-sized bottles of cologne.
“That’s the cologne Tom wears!” George said, jubilantly.
“Cool, thanks,” I said, passing the box to Jason, as though it were a Christmas gift.
Next I reached into the bag and felt a spongy material. It was a pair of spandex biker shorts, black with a thick, neon-colored stripe up each side. “Awesome.”
The last item in the bag was men’s bikini underwear, a package of three, each pair in a different acid-washed print. I held them in front of my face, too stunned to comment.
“Aren’t you gonna try them on?” George said.
“Yeah, Danny, try them on.” Jason said, smiling.
“I’ll use the bathroom,” I said, and took the paper bag with me.
I closed and locked the bathroom door. It was a small space. The bathroom mirror had those dressing room light bulbs around the edges. I tried on the spandex shorts first; they cut off my circulation and nearly put my legs to sleep. After I took them off I looked at the tag: S for small. Maybe they did belong to Tom Cruise, after all.
After that I reluctantly tried on a pair of the bikini underwear. It was like slipping on a pair of women’s panties. The thong rode up my butt crack and my scrotum spilled out of the sides of the front the same way George himself spilled out the sides of his movie theater seat. I felt an immediate sense of shame and disgust and I took them off, hurling them back into the paper bag.
“Why don’t you come out here and model them for us?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Wha-at…just having some fun!”
I walked out of the bathroom. Jason was still sitting at the table, smiling. I held up the bag. “Thanks for this stuff, George. But we gotta go. My dad’s expecting us. We’re gonna walk.”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll drive you.”
“Nah, there’s a couple girls we’re seeing who live down the street. We’re gonna stop there first.”
“You have a girlfriend?”
“Seeya at church!”
I received my confirmation a month later, and CCD was over. George still handed out communion during the 5:00 mass—the only mass I could ever wake up for—so I duly skipped every Sunday. I haven’t been back since.
After a couple months of avoiding his calls and making up excuses, he got the picture and left me alone.
Then he started calling Jason.
“Dude. LaRoche called me again last night.”
“Are you shitting me? What now?”
“He wants me to have a three-way with him and his girlfriend.”
“Bullshit he has a girlfriend.”
“He put her on the phone.”
“It was probably his mother.”
“She sounded young.”
“It was probably a hooker he was about to kill.”
“Dude, what should I do?”
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘what should you do’? Are you seriously considering this?”
“No, no, of course not.”
After two weeks of nightly phone calls Jason’s older brother, Ronnie, picked up the phone and threatened to kill George if he ever called the house again.
“We’re just friends!” George pleaded in his nasally Boston accent.
“I don’t give a fuck who you are. Come near my brother again and I’ll run you over in my ‘vette. I know what you look like, fat man.”
Two months later myself, Jason and Tommy Donovan were hanging out at the Shell gas station where Jason worked part time during the summer. Tommy was a year younger than us, a hanger-on, a rambunctious, troubled kid who was always causing scenes or getting into fights to vie for a little attention. The three of us were sitting on the bench next to the gas station’s vestibule—Tommy taking intermittent pulls from a bottle of schnapps—when a white Cadillac turned in off the street and pulled up to the pumps. The door opened and out swung the fat man himself, LaRoche.
He hiked up his trousers and walked toward us.
“How have you boys been?”
Jason and I stayed put, sitting on the bench, with our arms folded across our chests.
“Is someone gonna pump my gas, or what?” George asked.
We both turned to Tommy. “Fuck it. I’ll do it,” he said, and got up and walked to the pump.
After filling the tank George gave Tommy a twenty on $18.25 of gas. He got back into the Cadillac, looked at Jason and me one last time, started the engine and drove away, the sound of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York trailing away from the car radio in the summer night.
Tommy walked back to the bench and sat down. “Just made a $2.75 tip off that fat guy. Who was that, anyway? You guys know him?”
“Go to the 5:00 mass on Sunday. He’ll be there. He’ll hook you up with free booze. And free cologne,” I said, dully, staring straight ahead.
“No shit? How do you assholes know this?”
Jason and I looked at each other.
We didn’t see much of Tommy after that night. Apparently he and George became close; how close, I’ll never know. Nor do I care to know. I’d see Tommy down at the park from time to time, and he seemed fine. He’d tell me how George would call him almost every night and they’d talk—sometimes for hours—about life, about absent fathers, and about career goals. Tommy didn’t have any. George seemed to take a special interest in that.
One evening at the park, after a Babe Ruth baseball game, I saw Tommy sitting alone on a park bench. I walked up and sat next to him. He looked shaken up. I asked what was up and he told me that George had come over the night before with a couple bottles of whiskey, and that the two of them were “hanging out” when his father showed up, unannounced, to drop off his child support. His father, a veteran police chief, evidently beat the shit of George, smashing his face off the hood of the white Cadillac. “I kept the booze, at least,” Tommy said, quietly, staring off at a swing set in the distance.
I sometimes feel bad about introducing Tommy to George, but I felt the only way to truly eradicate the curse was to pass it off on someone else, like in an exorcism movie. According to Facebook, Tommy is a happily married, father of two. Jason is living in Los Angeles and fronting a Johnny Cash cover band. I am alive and well in Boston, doing whatever it is I do.
I have looked for LaRoche on the internet.
His whereabouts remain unknown.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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