‘Do the right thing’–do what’s right for you

Part II from Escaping-Brewerytown

The moment of truth came down to one question: “Who else was with you?”

I looked to the floor and didn’t answer until the head of a juvenile aid panel from Philadelphia Family Court asked me to speak up.

I dare not raise my eyes. I had to “come clean” and admit my fault. But, I was uncertain whether I should involve someone else. So many thoughts went through me. Be the good altar boy who wanted to be a priest, and tell of all six who entered the property, going from floor to floor to get to the roof and back.

We were looking at the charge of burglary, entering property of another without permission to commit a crime therein. “Breaking and entering” is another term used, but we actually broke nothing and simply climbed through a window of a 4-story building three blocks from my Brewerytown, North Philadelphia, home to retrieve half balls hit onto the roof.

Tell them, I thought. You know who was there. They caught you and two of your friends. But they wanted the others. Those kids were older, at least  two years your senior at age 13. You’re the youngest. Don’t be the dumbest.

Do the right thing!

Other voices spoke to me, however. Came from James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and the “tough” guys in the movies I admired.  They played the hoods, the gangsters, the “bad guys” who I looked up to, who knew what to do. (Never rat out” a friend.)

Give up the names of others in this “criminal conspiracy?” Trespassing in order to remove hundreds of halfies that blanketed the roof top structure. That’s what we did, and I admit it.

Hell, half of the halfies were no good. They were split or had melted from years in the hot sun. Others were caked with tar that must have “bled” during the really hot days.

Who else was with you, Michael Contos?” asked the woman again. She was the head of the panel and sat in the middle, flanked by two others at a long table facing me and the other boys who sat directly across the room from them. Our parents (my mother) appeared in Court and sat behind us.

I don’t know,” I said. I t was a heartfelt answer. And I felt it was right. Until Dave (not his real name) named my best friend, Johnny Keller, as one of those not caught. J then named another, Billy McLaughlin, the good Irish kid who lived around the corner near 30th and Stiles streets.

Not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I felt safe. The panel had no reason to think I knew either one of those named. But, there was a report of three kids, not two, that escaped from a gun-toting elderly security guard who rounded up us miscreants. The juvenile aid chair would settle for nothing less than all co-conspirators.

She asked again. “Who else was with you?” Confident with my deception, I spoke louder, putting an innocent plea in my voice, “I don’t know, I told you.”

Dave gave the same answer, but with less conviction, refusing to, or being unable to, make eye contact with the panel. And then they got to Joey (also not a real name).

Johnny Contos,” he said, naming my older brother.

Silence followed. I felt her, more than I actually saw her, as the juvenile official directed her gaze toward me. She caught me. Caught me in a lie.

You don’t know you’re own brother?” the woman said with a touch of pity . . . and . . .  what I would later describe as pure disdain.

The state declined to bring charges against us. It was the right thing to do. Don’t know if I did the “right thing” back then. Hate to say it, but even  after all the years and the so-called wisdom I was supposed to gain with age, I’d probably do the same thing again.

May not have been theright” thing to do. But, It was right thing for me.

6 comments on “‘Do the right thing’–do what’s right for you

  1. Howard Brown says:

    Was Jim Clancy Or Jim Boyle the old heads? Howard Brown

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Yes, Jim Clancy and James Boyle as well as Ed Connerton and a whole lot more!

      Sounds to me as if you had a tough time escaping Brewerytown, too!

      You know what the say: “You can take the kid out of Brewerytown, but you can’t take the Brewerytown out of the kid.”

      Michael J

      Liked by 1 person

  2. elenateem says:

    Hi Michael. It is me again. You visited my website elenateem.wordpress.com and left a comment today. Thank you very much. This website is in Russian. I am Russian. I have the other one
    http://freeandhappy.wordpress.com/. It’s in English. You have already been there. I will be glad if you visit it again. Helen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:


      I thought it was Greek!

      Just shows you how limited an American education is nowadays. And I got the degrees to prove it.

      So nice to know love and compassion can be found in you Mother Country. I learned recently that the Buddha’s family might have emigrated from a former “satellite” of the USSR, Ukraine. Got a lot of friends, including one I have been turoring English, born and raised there.

      Will have to insure I ask for Russian translation next time I visit.


      michael j

      Liked by 1 person

  3. elenateem says:

    We often do things we must do. Sometimes we don’t understand why we do all these things. Just we do. What for? Because we must. People say we must. We should ask ourselves,’Do I really want to do it? What is better for me – to follow rules or my inner voice?’ We stopped listening ourselves. We don’t hear a quiet voice of our soul. We lost ourselves.
    I think you have done the right thing – you listened to YOURSELF.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      You would make one heckuva Buddhist! Right speech, right intent and all the other rights combined.

      I like your thoughts from what I’ve been able to put together using a Google translator. Hope to see you again soon, Helen.

      michael j

      Liked by 1 person

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