Helping Lost Angels
1973-1976 (16-19 years-old)
Two years later, when I turned 16, my former probation officer, Bill Janike, asked me if I wanted to become a Volunteer In Probation. He told me I could help other kids like me who were on probation. You see, once a kid gets put on probation, for either 3 months or 6 months or even 1 year, all they do during this time is try to stay out of trouble so they don’t get sent to Kearney Youth Development Center. A lot kids failed to stay out of trouble, so the court designed this volunteer program to help connect kids with people who could help keep them out of trouble.
The first four kids Bill assigned me to had broken into the Joyo Theater and burglarized the place. Three of those kids were willing to let me work with them, but the fourth kid was an unruly, stub-born, obnoxious kid who refused to accept my help. I tried repeatedly to connect with this kid, but he wanted nothing to do with me. The other three I managed to keep out of trouble and saw them get off of probation in the next six months.
Then one night, every thing about this youth work took on a whole new meaning.
One of the boys, 15-year-old James, was getting high one night while inhaling Sure deodorant out of an aerosol can. He and another boy, George, had both done this before, and so they thought it was just a harmless way to get high.
But James took a big whiff of the deodorant, and the aerosol closed off his lungs and he began to suffocate. George tried to get James back up on his feet, but he was already too far gone. So instead of calling 911, George called James’s mom, but by the time she arrived at the scene, James had died.
And because of James’s tragic death, I became more determined to tell other kids not to make the same mistake. I kind of got on this anti-drug crusade. I would take my guitar down to Havelock Park and sing to all the kids who came down there to get high.
I was either known as Father Frye or the Park Narc. Some kids didn’t know how to take me. I even had one kid’s mom accuse me of selling drugs out of my guitar case. The cops even showed up one night and told me to turn my radio down, which I thought was quite funny. At least, someone near the park confused my singing with something good enough to be on the radio.
Most kids just liked to sit and debate with me, about God, about drugs or drinking, and yet others were downright respectful to me, actually asking me questions about all of the above topics. Then, Teresa, a young girl in Havelock hung herself one night, and John shot himself with a shotgun. Charlie wrapped his face with a towel and goggles, and put an M-80 in his mouth and lit it, and died in his parents’ bath tub. Stuart, my friend, shot himself with a shotgun one night, and witnessing first hand these sudden and tragic deaths made me more determined to reach out to the kids who continued to pass through the park. Eventually, these deaths prompted me to put together this plan to start a rec. center down there to keep kids off the streets and prevent any more tragic deaths from taking place. I enlisted the help of two local cops, Father Witt, the Catholic priest, and a five kids to go with me to a meeting with the Havelock Business Association.
It turned into a disaster.
One business owner said, “These kids shot out my windows with a BB gun! So if they are going to act like animals, then lock them up in cages like animals!”
I felt like I was in the middle of a Billy Jack movie, which took place in the 70’s and was all about equal rights, Indian rights, and giving peace a chance.
The police officers with me tried to calm the businessmen down by telling them that a rec. center seemed like a good idea to them, that all the Havelock kids needed was something to keep them busy. But once again the meeting spun out of control when one business owner said, “A rec. center will just bring more drugs into the area! It will just be a place where more kids can sell and use drugs!”
Father Witt tried using his logic, as well, but not one of those businessmen was going to listen to any of us.
So, I called down to the Mayor’s office, and set up a personal meeting between myself and Mayor Helen Boosalis.
There I was, this long-haired, bearded 17-year-old walking into Helen’s office to talk with her about a way to help the troubled kids of Havelock.
Helen and her assistant gave me cold stares, and Helen said, “You have two minutes!”
I said, “Well, could I at least sit down, Mrs. Boosalis?”
Helen sighed and said, “If you wish! But you still have only two minutes!”
I sat down and proceeded to tell her about Danny’s death and the many other kids in Havelock, and the need for a rec. center.
Helen wasn’t having any of it, though. She rolled her eyes and coldly said, “Havelock has no needs at this time! Havelock kids can go to Easterday in the northeast section of the city! Right now, our money is going to the needs of Southeast students! Now, if you’re finished, I have work to do!”
I said, “Southeast? Kids in the southeast section of town have recreation centers in their base-ments! And Havelock kids won’t go to Easterday because they would get into fights there if they did! Are you so sure Havelock doesn’t need help?”
Helen gave me an icy glare and said, “Your time is up! Time for you to be going!”
And that was the end of my two minutes with Helen Boosalis, the great mayor of Lincoln.
She was rude to me. She had no right to be rude. All I was there doing was trying to get help for kids in Havelock. I just think she couldn’t get past the fact that I had long hair and was rather scruffy looking. She probably just assumed that I was a druggie like all the kids I was trying to help. I just don’t know.
But that next week, some reporter from the Journal and Star came out and did a story about my efforts to get a center started, and she put in her report how both the mayor and the Havelock business association had refused to help me with my cause. It was wasn’t very flattering, so they ran another story next to my front page story, complete with my picture, saying exactly what the mayor had told me about the southeast needing more help, and that Havelock kids could just go to Easter-day rec. center.
Two months after that story came out, someone started up a large arcade just outside of Havelock. They called the place H.P. Cassidy’s, and it was filled with pool tables, pinball machines, and shuffleboard tables. Kids from every part of the city flocked to the place.
It was just a week after Cassidy’s opened that Kevin, another kid I had been working with, broke into the veterinarian clinic and stole some horse tranquilizers, which were equivalent to PCP. He started his evening at the arcade smoking a joint. He then snorted some coke, and to kick off his evening, he took one of those horse tranquilizers and washed it down with tequila.
Evidently, he started wigging out at the arcade and by the time he drew a large crowd, he led them all across Cornhusker Highway and over to the Havelock railroad overpass.
It was there that he climbed on top of the overpass and started shouting that he was the Birdman, that he could fly! He fell off the bridge and rolled out into the middle of the street, where he was nearly run over by a passing motorist.
Someone had the good sense to call the cops, but by the time they arrived Kevin was biting chunks out of his own hand. They had to handcuff him and put him in a cop car.
It was then that Kevin started shouting, “Get Father Frye! Go get Father Frye! I wanna talk to Father Frye!”
So the cops drove him down to Saint Patrick’s church, thinking Kevin wanted to see a priest. Poor Father Witt told the police, “We don’t have a Father Frye here, sorry.”
But the cop managed to say, “Well, we’ve got this intoxicated youth in our car and he’s asking to see this Father Frye.”
Father Witt then put two and two together, and he said, “Oh, a drunken youth? You must want Tom Frye. He’s a youth worker who works with kids here in Havelock. Here, step inside. I’ll get you his phone number.”
So the officer called my house, and got a hold of my mom, telling her he was a police officer and that he was out at the hospital and that he was looking for her son.
Earlier that evening, my friends and I had taken a motorcycle ride out to Louisville, so my mom immediately heard “cop, hospital, and my name” and assumed I had been in a motorcycle wreck. But then the cop explained the situation, that Kevin had consistently been asking to see me.
When I arrived home an hour later, she had me call the police officer out at Lincoln General hospital. He then told me the situation and asked if I would be willing to come out there and talk Kevin down.
I agreed and rode my cycle across town.
Kevin looked like he had KISS make-up on his face, his eyes were all sunken with dark rings around them, and he was as pale as an Irish ghost. Kevin saw me and immediately jumped up, banging his bandaged hand on a table. He didn’t seem to notice it, though, as he began spouting off, “I knew you’d come, Tom! I knew you’d come see me! Man, I see Jesus standing over there in that corner, and the Devil is standing in the other corner, and there’s a whole gob of demons in between!”
I listened Kevin talk like this for four long hours, and at the end of his tirade, he said, “There, there out in space is the seven-headed dragon from the Book of Revelation! The seven-headed dragon and he’s coming for me!”
Finally, I said, “Kevin, you could have died tonight, taking all four of those drugs. What were you thinking?”
“Died?” Kevin muttered. “That would have been so cool, because I would been sent to hell! And hell is gonna be one big party, and all my friends are gonna be in hell one day! Having one big party, me and all my friends!”
I sadly shook my head, saying, “Jesus wept tonight when you took all those drugs, Kevin. Jesus wept for how pathetic you became when you messed up by taking that cocktail from hell.”
It took me until five AM to finally get Kevin talked down to his normal self, and by then, he passed out in the hospital bed and went to sleep.
I left there, thinking there had to be a way I could tell other kids like him that they didn’t have to be just like their friends to be accepted, and that hell wasn’t going to be one big party.
That morning as the sun came up, the birds were just beginning to sing, I sat down at my desk and wrote the first words of what later would become my first book: It’s a bust! I wrote, and then went on to describe the bust of a major party and a 13-year-old kid named Reason Nelson who escaped the bust and gets labeled a narc for it. I named the story Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball.
Yes, I started the book that morning, but really got serious about finishing after I had a few more crisis intervention situations.
The next one after Kevin, really took it’s toll on me.
It happened when I was just 17, and I needed to graduate from high school, but found I was about 60 credits short. So to make up those credits I became the test-pilot for a new program the counselors at Northeast wanted to implement.
I became a teacher’s assistant to two fifth grade teachers at Havelock elementary school.
It was an experience that changed my life.
The first day I was assigned to work with a snotty-nosed kid who had a bad case of plumber’s pants, and he was doing about six inches of crack as he walked down the hall. Michael, the boy, had been in trouble for tossing ammonia on some little girl and then kicking his teacher with his cowboy boots. So they gave him to me to work with one-on-one in a little quiet room.
The first thing the kid said, “You’re wearing a cross, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, thumbing my cross I wore around my neck on a leather strand. “Do you like it?”
Michael stared at the cross then said, “It means you believe in God, right? It means you pray to God, too, right?”
“Well,” I said, “yes, it means I believe in God, and yes I pray to God. Why?”
Michael picked a booger from his nose and said nonchalantly said, “Would you pray for my cat. She got hit by a car yesterday and I think she ran off to die somewhere. Pray for her that she went to heaven, okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m sure if she got killed, she went straight to heaven, but I’ll pray for her just the same, okay?”
“Cool,” Michael said. “Thanks.
I told the kid I would pray for his cat, so I did.
And it sounded as if my prayer had been answered, for the next day he came running into school, his eyes wide and he excitedly said, “God answered your prayer! My cat came home and she had six babies! Now, my mom wants to meet you!”
Evidently, the car hadn’t killed the cat, and she indeed came home and had six babies the next morning.
So as instructed by Michael, after school that day, I went with Michael to meet his mom, Rachel. The name fit her well for she was this raven-haired, dark-complected lady in her early 30’s and she reminded me of a Gypsy. Rachel and I hit it off right away, and she told me she had been divorced twice and had two kids by one dad, and two more by the other.
Before long, Rachel and her four kids and I started going to the church where I was a youth pastor. One night during services, their was a missionary speaking and at the end of his sermon, he started “auctioning” for money!
He did just like an auctioneer, too, speaking really fast and counting down from one hundred dollars and getting the church folk psyched up to start making bids, and rasing their hands if they agreed to give him the amount he rattled off.
Rachel, who first complained about churches always asking for money, was appalled. She stood up and left me sitting there with her four kids. And she left the church.
I stood up in the middle of the auctioning and said, “Excuse me, sir. But the Bible says if you see your brother doing something wrong, you’re supposed to point it out to him.”
Pastor Bob immediately stood up and said, “Tom, please sit down. You are out of order, and you’re being rude to our guest speaker.”
But Missionary Davis said, “Wait, one moment please, Pastor. I would like to hear what this young man has to say. Go ahead, son, speak your mind.”
I had to give him credit. He at least was curious about why I had stood up and interrupted him. So I said, “You’re up there auctioning for money, which doesn’t really belong in a church, sir. If you really had faith you would put a bucket at the back of the church, tell the people your needs, and trust God that he will fill your bucket.”
A hush fell over the church then, and as I sat back down everyone looked to Missionary Davis. He smiled at me and said, “Why, son, you just might have a higher revelation of faith than I do, and the next church I go speak in, I’m putting a bucket at the back and I will trust God to fill it up!”
The people actually clapped then, and as the service ended this little old lady stopped as she approached me. She reached out with one bony hand and clasped my arm really hard. She then looked at me and firmly said, “You were so right!”
The kids and I went to walk out, but Pastor Bob urged me to go apologize to Missionary Davis for interrupting his service. I went to go do so, but Davis simply told Pastor Bob and I he had been corrected and from now on he would trust God with filling his bucket at the back of each church he visited. It was a good moment for me, for I had done what I thought was right, and the guy was cordial enough, and humble enough to accept it.
After that incident in the church, Rachel refused to go back after that, and insisted I come over to her house to give her prayer sessions and Bible lessons. I would head over to her house almost every night, and before long my mom started freaking out about how much time I was spending with an older woman. She once told me, “You remember that Clint Eastwood movie, Play Misty for Me? Well, that lady came after Clint Eastwood with a knife because if she couldn’t have him no one would! That’s the way this is going to turn out between you and Rachel! You mark my word!”
But I wasn’t marking her word, nor listening to it. No, as a Christian I figured I was just bringing Rachel and her kids closer to the Lord.
Until one night, when Rachel cornered me in her house and put the moves on me.
The kids were all in bed, and I was just getting ready to leave for the evening when Rachel walked up and started french-kissing me.
At first, I was flattered that she thought so highly of me, so I just kissed her back but then things took a stranger twist when she started talking dirty to me.
Rachel said, “I need nine inches of a good man!”
I muttered, “Well, I fall short by about three!”
Believe me, I was trying to be quick on my feet, before I ended up being slow in her bed.
Rachel then growled, “Come on, give me your nine inches!”
I finally had to forcefully remove her lips from me and her arms. And this seemed to bring her back down to reality, and she let me leave and go home.
The next day, she put on her red dress and called the church where I was holding a prayer meeting. Rachel then told Pastor Bob, “I’m coming over to the church to marry Tommy! I’ve put on my new red dress, and I want you to marry us! Tonight! I’ll be right over, so get ready!”
Pastor Bob phoned Rachel’s parents and they ended up going over to her house, to try to calm her down. They finally were forced to call the Regional Center, and a team of mental health workers came out and placed Rachel in a straight jacket and hauled her off to the Regional Center.
I would like to say it ended there, but it didn’t. In fact, things for Rachel just got worse.
A week later, I was at the church holding a prayer meeting when my mom phoned over to talk to me. She was freaking out because after Rachel had gone through shock treatments, she was still determined to marry me. So she broke out of the Regional Center and stole a car.
My mom told me to get on my bike and get straight home, or else Rachel might be out hunting for me.
I spoke to Pastor Bob and he offered to drive me home, but I assured him I could ride my bicycle home four blocks away and that I would call him when I got there.
It was a rainy, stormy night, and on that ride home I was jumping at every noise and turning and looking behind me every time a car turned down the street I was riding on.
I made it home safely, but as I came into the kitchen, I went to flick on the kitchen lights, and they didn’t come on. So I made my way through the dark kitchen into the hallway, and I went to flick on that light as well. But it, too, failed to turn on.
I was really getting creeped out. I couldn’t figure out why none of the lights would come on. But as I inched my way toward the bathroom, the light in my bedroom came on, and my mom and my aunt came charging out of there, stabbing at the air with steak knives and shouting, “Rachel! Rachel! Rachel!”
I about had a heart attack!
I simply melted to the floor, and it was a good long time before I joined them in laughter at their stupid prank.
Told you once before, I had a strange childhood, thanks to people in my life like my mom, Donna, and my Aunt Darlene. They thought it was hilarious. Besides, my mom wanted to pay me back for not listening to her when she first told me Rachel was obsessed with me. I think she accomplished her mission. She and my aunt had unscrewed all the light bulbs all the way from the kitchen to the bathroom.
My mom thought it was a perfect way to teach me a lesson.
Of course, later on, I was always having trouble with some unwed mom of the kid I was working with getting extremely attached to me. In fact, it plagued me all during the time I did my youth work. Rachel was just the first, and probably the most dramatic. You would have thought I had learned something from my disastrous experience with her, but I just never got the hint when someone had stepped over the boundaries, and I was constantly finding myself involved in potentially dangerous circumstances. I guess once I showed their kid any positive attention, some of these moms just had the notion that I was giving them much needed attention, as well.