It went on for months -- Joe and Frank hanging out all day -- until Joe got caught: the school sent a letter home. Joe got a beating from his older brothers. And he was summoned to see the principal, Major Nourse. (No one knew why he was called Major, but the title fit him: he was discipline, first, last, and always.) Tom, the eldest DiMaggio brother, took Joe back to school. But when they got there, Major Nourse wasn't in.
They sat on chairs in the hallway. And they sat.
They sat an hour, an hour and a half. The chairs were hard. They sat.
Finally, Joe said, "Tom. They don't want me."
"Okay," Tom said. They got up and walked out. And that was the last day Joe went to high school.
He promised Tom he'd go to "continuation class" -- the school for dropouts. But Joe never went there either.
For a while, he hung around with Frank -- who was still on the loose -- the school never cared if he came back. But soon, Frank had to go to work. He hooked on -- as much as he could -- at Simmons Bedding, in the steel mill plant. He tied bed rails into bundles and loaded them onto trucks. That was five bucks a day.
Joe tried his hand as a workin' stiff, too. He worked a week or so for Pacific Box, stacking wooden crates, or bringing slats to the men at the nailing machines. The work was stupid, and the money wasn't great -- ten, twelve bucks a week. Joe moved on to the orange juice plant. But that was worse: up to your ass all day in sticky juice, with acid eating into the cuts on your hands. And for what? He didn't even make a full week there.
There wasn't anything that he wanted to do, except to have a few bucks in his pocket -- and avoid his father's boat. He went back to selling papers.
Frank thought maybe Joe could hook on at Simmons Bed. They had jobs there, if you knew someone. And they had a ball team. Maybe they could both play. He would have talked to Joe about it.
But they weren't talking.
After Frank made Joe wait for Piggy on a Bounce, Joe had to take the streetcar downtown -- on his own nickel. After that, Joe wouldn't talk to Frank for a year.
Copyright © 2000 by Richard Ben Cramer
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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