Sunday, September 02, 2012

George, Joe and Me

I was checking Facebook this morning when I noticed a post from Joe Lansdale saying that a book by one of his favorite authors, George V. Higgins, has been made into a movie. The movie is called "Killing Them Softly" and it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May. It will be released in the U.S. in October.

I didn't know that Joe was a George V. Higgins fan, and I picked up the phone and told Joe that - it's a small world - George V. Higgins and I are from the same town, Rockand, Mass. Higgins graduated from Rockland High School in 1957, the year I was born. I graduated in 1975.

George Higgins' father, John T. Higgins, was high school principal when he was a student, and something about having his dad in the principal's office during his time in school gave George a real attitude about Rockland. Maybe he was picked on; maybe he resented the time his father accidentally stepped off the stage in the school auditorium, and he fell to the floor, breaking his leg - and the little bastards laughed at him.

In any case, after he graduated, Higgins never would admit he was from Rockland, and often claimed Brockton as his birthplace - which was true, that is where the hospital was.

John T. Higgins left the Rockland schools and was treasurer of the Massachusetts Teachers Association when he died suddenly in 1966; he was 60. George was in law school at the time.

I always thought it was fascinating that the principal who succeeded John. T. Higgins at Rockland High School was named Joe Cogan, and in 1974 - when I was a junior in high school - Higgins' third novel (following "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" in 1970 and "The Digger's Game" in 1973) was named "Cogan's Trade". That's the first time it occurred to me that novelists even scores by naming villains after nemeses.

By the time I was in high school, John T. Higgins was dead, Joe Cogan had left as principal in 1969, and George was keeping as great a distance as he could. But Mrs. Higgins - John T.'s wife and George V.'s mother - lived in Rockland until she died in 2007, age 98 (she outlived her husband by 41 years, and her son by eight - George died in 1999.)

I wouldn't say Doris Higgins was reclusive, but she didn't seem to socialize much. From what I heard, there was lingering resentment in the Higgins family over the way her husband had been treated. Reading between the lines, I assumed John T. Higgins had been a no-nonsense educator, and that would have put him in conflict with the other strain in public education, which is to use school jobs as patronage. In Massachusetts, where the Irish Democrat glad-handing policy of handing out jobs to insure political loyalty was very strong then - and probably still is today - I'm sure that caused problems.

Doris Higgins was a member of a historical committee when I was in high school (the city celebrated the centennial of its incorporation in 1974) and I served as a student rep. Higgins was 65 at the time, grey-haired, stern and like I said, no-nonsense. We met a couple of times at her home. What I remember the most was that she has two large Dobermans and was very concerned to keep them away from the guests. That was back when Dobermans had a much worse reputation than they do now, and I think she thought some people would be scared of them.

Anyone who knows me well knows I've always been a big dog lover, and I wanted to play with the pooches, and she wouldn't let me!

I regaled Joe with all this trivia this morning. It was a good excuse to visit. He and Karen are heading overseas for a tour in Italy and Germany starting on Tuesday (I've never traveled overseas and have never owned a passport). Keith and Kasey will be joining them later. It's nice to see Joe is doing well, he's certainly earned it.

Like I said, it's a small world.

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