Dildo, that's what my old man called me. Dildo Dunphy. I remember when he dubbed me. It was a muggy day in the summer of my ninth year and I'd run inside his radiator shop to borrow fifteen cents for a frozen lemonade. The old man blotted his forehead with the back of his hand and leaned against the counter, the tiny blood vessels on his nose gorged red with rancor. He scowled over a bogus Jimmy Fund bucket and said, "Until you earn it, Dildo, just stay the hell out of here! "
My Christian name is Timothy Brian Dunphy and I was born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a rotting city bleeding off an anemic river just north of Providence. The old man loved Pawtucket. Claimed it had flavor. I couldn't argue with that; the city smelled like a sour-cream-and-onion flavored potato chip, on account of the Choo-Sum junk food factory a mile upstream. Factory City, U.S.A., that's what Pawtucket was called in her prime.
My old man and brother and I lived on the first floor of a seventy-year-old triple-decker perched above the tire-and-barrel-strewn banks of the Blackstone River. The apartments above us had been condemned and were occupied by bats. Life as we know it had left the Blackstone years earlier, although occasionally there were rumors that someone had spotted a three-headed frog or a giant Siamese carp swimming near one of the factories. I never swam in the Blackstone.
My mother hadn't lived with us since November 22, 1963. That's when she blew her brains all over our garage. Don't let the date weigh you down; it's not the reason, just fueled her mood. On our front door was a handgun-shaped sticker that read: FORGET THE DOG--BEWARE OF THE OWNER.
The neighborhood consisted of Nielsen families, I suppose. Another lady on my street committed side-sui; my next-door neighbor was doing time for being an accessory to a murder; about one-third of the parents were divorced; another third were screwing around; there were a couple of wife beaters; a few child abusers; a possible husband beater; a good crew of alkies; and the nut at the top of the street was on probation for bumblasting a troop of Boy Scouts.
The intersection in front of our house was the most hazardous in the state. It was a five-wayer regulated by a huge, pentagonal traffic light that winked an enticing yellow in each direction. At rush hour it became a five-army battle to see which battalion of cars would blast through first. One year there were more than fifty fender-benders. To the old man's chagrin, though, there'd never been a real grisly wreck--a lot of close calls but no corpses. We all knew it was coming. Sort of like living on a fault line; we were always waiting for the Big One.
I'm six feet tall with curly, dark red hair. I don't have freckles. When I was younger, the old man used to proudly tell me that redheaded guys are supposed to have mean streaks. He was confident that I would sprout into a short-tempered wild man. Well, I didn't have it. I looked for it, I prayed, I dug deep into my soul, but it wasn't there. I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror before bedtime and grimace and snarl and flex my nostrils and wrinkle my lips, but I couldn't convince myself that I was to be feared. When someone would pick a fight with me, I'd get all set--stand sideways and crouch as if protecting a manly set of balls--and I'd be staring at the kid I was supposed to be wailing on; but all I could see was my own puffy face and my little grapes, and before I could shake the image the kid would knuckle me. After years of getting beaten up for not being mean enough, my face finally developed the thick mean look that the old man promised. Girls, for the most part, didn't notice me, but the few I did hook up with credited my good fortune to the "cute chip" on one of my front teeth. My brother, Jackie, who's three years younger than me, got the worst of the deal; he didn't get slapped around as much, but he was cursed with thoroughbred buckteeth. A couple of them were chipped too.
The old man's radiator shop was at the corner of Silva and Central streets in Pawtucket. It was a well-known landmark because of a once witty slogan the old man thought up and stamped all over the place, which I sometimes found embarrassing, like an old joke, and anyway not nearly as clever as the Rhode Island State Lottery ad which from the window proclaimed PICK A WINNER. The shop was called Pop's--the old man's nickname; he bragged that he'd earned the title "because I popped so many niggers when I was a boy." He'd grown up on Federal Hill in Providence, the only Irish kid in an Italian neighborhood. In the good old days he and his paisans would venture into South Providence on Saturday nights and beat the shit out of black guys. "Now," he said, "it's crazy, you could get yourself killed going into South Providence. They've let the place go to hell." For a long time my brother and I pretended to hate blacks. Figured we'd be fools not to. At some point, though, I realized that a lot of what the old man told me was bullshit. Like the time in first grade I asked him what the I.N.R.I. on the top of the crucifix stood for. He told me it meant "In Rhode Island."
Excerpted from Outside Providence by Peter Farrelly. Copyright © 1998 by Peter Farrelly. Excerpted by permission of Main Street Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.