My Life Before I Decided To Commit Suicide: A Love Story
When I was in the sixth grade some of us Catholic kids would get bused from Rockwell Elementary to St. James Elementary down in the Valley for catechism classes every Tuesday from noon to 2:30. Sometimes on the return trip, I would hitchhike from St. James back to Nedrow. Sometimes I would hitchhike with Patrick MacCollom. He lived about halfway to Nedrow in a new subdivision across from James E. Heath Park. He was about my age, maybe a little older than me, definitely more street-savvy than me. Patrick moved into a real nice neighborhood in the Valley called Valley Oaks. His parents were clearly spies. They had to be because all of the MacCollom kids were trained munitions experts. They were building bombs and tapping phone lines from the day they were born. The eldest son Joseph was a serious underground anti-U.S. master technician. You have to remember that during this time, 1965, Lyndon Johnson was president, U.S. troops were beginning to be sent to Vietnam, 14,000 national guardsmen were called to quell the riots in Watts, miniskirts were in, Joe Namath signed with the Jets, the Beatles 65 album was released, Love Potion #9 peaked at number 3, Alan Freed died, Winston Churchill died, Martin Luther King was arrested, there was a U.S. nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean, Malcolm X was assassinated, Stan Laurel died, France performed an underground nuclear test, the Sound of Music opened, the Temptations’ My Girl reached #1, the USSR performed a nuclear test, Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, Rembrandt’s Titus sold for $7,700,000, the first atomic powered spacecraft was launched, in one day 40 tornadoes ravaged the U.S. midwest injuring 5,000 and killing 272, an earthquake hit Seattle, Cassius Clay became a Muslim and adopted the name Muhammad Ali and in May KO’d Sonny Liston and in November TKO’d Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight boxing title, Willie Mays’ 512th home run broke Mel Ott's National League baseball record, the Rolling Stones recorded Satisfaction, the Campbell Soup Company introduced SpaghettiOs, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious hit #66, Sonny & Cher made their first TV appearance on American Bandstand, Casey Stengel resigned as manager of the NY Mets, Folk-rock began, Dylan played the electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, Morley Safer reported that the U.S. was losing the battle in Vietnam, the Beatles played to 55,000 crazed fans at Shea Stadium, Great Britain performed a nuclear test, Lost in Space premiered, Charles Linster did 6,006 consecutive push-ups, Pope Paul VI proclaimed that Jews were not collectively guilty for Christ’s crucifixion, the U.S. government sent 90,000 soldiers to Vietnam, and finally, A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered. These were troubling times to say the least. We needed people like Joseph doing the work we didn’t know how to do.
Patrick’s older sister Jennifer was a master technician and a fortune teller. When I was a teenager she read tarot cards for me. We were in her apartment with incense burning and a single tiny light glowing in the corner. It was dark. No music, just me and her. Jennifer was a super skinny thing, maybe 5’2” tall weighing in at 85 lbs with a bit of a rough complexion and alcohol and drug symptoms. That’s the way I saw it. I could have been totally wrong, but I was always afraid of her. She was a part of the local underground culture where drugs and weapons were the norm. At least that’s the way I saw it. She and Sean, Patrick’s other older brother, and Joseph were steeped in underworld crime. How do you get there? Why do you choose to go there? What’s wrong with just being a kid? So there we are, just the two of us. How did I get in Jennifer’s apartment? What the hell was I doing there? I don’t know. I was just a bored kid looking for something new to do. I’m sure I could have fallen into the underground world that they lived in and I don’t know why I didn’t. My upbringing was baseball, washing the family vehicles and mowing the lawn. Do these menial tasks really mean that much? Is it the simple life-lessons of starting a job and finishing it that leads you away from the underworld (not that tracking and killing an intended spy target isn’t starting and finishing a job, but come on!). Parents take note, innocent household chores might be a more powerful training tool than ever.
Jennifer, after shuffling the cards several times, asked me to cut the deck. She laid four cards in a diamond pattern in front of me, face-down, and asked me to ask the cards a question, first about romance. I wanted to know if I would someday find true love. She flipped the card over and it was upside down – facing away from me, meaning that no, I would not ever, in my entire life find true love. “Goddammit,” I said. The next question was about fame and fortune. When the card was flipped it was facing me, but Jennifer told me that my fame and fortune would not be found in Syracuse, that I would have to leave town in order to find it. The next card signified health and happiness. It too was facing me. That was good news. The final card was the financial card. It was upside down, facing away from me. I was disappointed, but the cards are the cards. They don’t lie. I think Jennifer thought I was part of a narco squad anyway and just wanted to get rid of me so she was telling me to get out of Dodge NOW while the gittin’ was good.
Sean, the middle child, was a crazy technician who just blew shit up all the time, laughing, snorting and twitching his eyes as he went along. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, snort, twitch, twitch, laugh, laugh, laugh, snort, snort, twitch ..... twitch. And then there was my friend Patrick. Patrick was fun and not so technically inclined but still inclined only because he grew up being surrounded by illicit inclinations. And finally, there was Shannon the younger sister who was perfectly normal with no aspirations to kill and maim. She was their Marilyn Munster. The gorgeous, the pretty, the book smart younger sister who had to find the right mix in her mate for life. Somewhere between her brothers and sister who could protect her should the commies actually attack, and someone who might provide a normal life for her. Shannon wanted the picket fence lifestyle. Not the electric fence, cattle-prod lifestyle.
One day on our way home from catechism, Patrick and I decided to hitchhike to Pennsylvania, 70 miles south. We started hitchhiking from St. James and made our way to the entrance to Interstate 81 South in Nedrow. It must have looked rather bazaar to see two little kids on the highway with their thumbs out. I have no recollection of anyone picking us up in either direction except for this one elderly Alfred Hitchcock-looking guy in an old, rusted 1950s Plymouth sedan. Patrick got in the backseat and I got in the front. We were riding along talking about whatever it is eleven-year-olds talk about to adult strangers, and this guy starts leading the discussion toward nudist colonies. What do I know? I’m eleven. “We don’t wear clothes you know. Everyone, even the girls, are completely naked.” This sounds great! I notice there are magazines strewn on his front seat right next to me. I ask him if he minds if I take a look at them. He says, “No. Go right ahead.” So I flip open the magazine and stare blankly. I’m like frozen. I come out of my frozenness enough to turn the page. I turn the pages one after the other, one after the other, turning slower and slower, and there it is - page after page of naked people. This is great, but there is one thing in common with everyone in this magazine; they are all stark naked young boys.
HOLY FUCK! I don’t know what to say or what to do. I just keep staring at the pages. Young naked boys Patrick’s and my age. I am in fucking shock. Frozen I tell ya! Patrick sees this and fortunately for both of us, his years of spy training kicks in. He starts screaming as loud as he can at the old fart to, “pull over and let us out! Pull over right now or I’ll bust YOUR FUCKING face IN you fat old bastard! PULLOVER OR I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU! I HAVE A FUCKING GUN! PULLOVER! I’LL RIP THE SKIN OFF YOUR DEMENTED FACE BEFORE YOU KNOW WHAT THE FUCK HIT YOU. I’LL SLICE YOUR FUCKING THROAT IN TEN FUCKING SECONDS. PULLOVER OR I’LL KILL YOU!”
The old man slows down and pulls over immediately to the side of the highway. I don’t know what the hell happens, but we’re let out somewhere near Scranton. I can see the Welcome to Scranton sign just up the road. We run across the highway and hitchhike back to Nedrow. I’m home in time for dinner. Nobody knows nothin’ and Patrick and I never speak of it ever again. Fucking Faggot! Chester the Molester! Jerkoff! If I were by myself I would have been killed. Thanks Patrick. Thanks Sean for teaching Patrick. Thanks Jennifer for teaching Sean. Thanks Joseph for teaching Jennifer. I think I owe all of you my life.
Poetry from a Road Scholar is a select collection of 86 poems and song lyrics written mostly during the 1970s and 80s. It was a lot of fun studying the pieces I had penned so long ago. I was able to revisit many of my travels and experience the time periods and the people I was involved with during these times. While I had a lot of friends, I was in essence, a loner and a recluse, as I am even today. I'm not sure where this behavior comes from. When I perform my music I am as free as I can be. I'm not a bad conversationalist, but I'm not one to just jump in the middle of a group of strangers, introduce myself and bingo!, I'm the life of the party. No, that's not me. But I was able to write in my solidarity and I am pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy it as well.
Once I had cataloged when the text was written and I actually studied the text, I realized that I was just a teenager and in my early twenties when the great majority of these works had been penned. I was pleasantly surprised by the somber words woven together that spoke the truth in every phrase. Writing, whether we’d like it to be or not, is all about the truth. Poetry from a Road Scholar points to a repeated history of human yearning. The wanting need to be with someone, the sincere beginnings followed by the attempts at reconciliation and the angry pissedoffidness that follows each failed attempt. Some works are humorous, some are sprinkled with sexual overtones, some are deep and perhaps even philosophical. Most are in plain English written by a young man from Upstate New York. To see When My Poems Were Written, click here.
Forward by Mary Jo Melby: Past President, National Society of Arts and Letters, El Paso Chapter
James Robert (Jim) Murphy is a Renaissance Man. The term “Renaissance Man” has been defined as a person with many talents or areas of knowledge. Jim certainly epitomizes this description. He is a poet, yes, but also a songwriter, a painter, has authored five books, plays guitar and sings - solo and with a variety of musical groupings.
But what makes a true Renaissance Man goes way beyond just possessing the aforementioned talents. It takes tenacity - putting your assets into action. Jim does this. He jumps into life at the moment of inspiration and just paints or sings or writes. While many talented people think about creating, Jim creates.
Coming from a youth filled with adventure and sometimes even danger, Jim writes from the heart and experiences. I believe that many of us would agree that it’s when we are in those formative young years that emotions are felt so deeply. Because Jim kept journals during much of his life he is able to recall so many of his feelings in a very real way.
Poetry from a Road Scholar reminds us of the close way in which all of the arts are connected. We see the conductor leading his orchestra while visualizing different colors and the artist painting to the inspiration of his favorite music. Magical!!
Sit back and join in the fun as Jim Murphy takes us to places only a poet such as he can travel.
A quote from my friend Katherine Brennand - Ahhh….youthful innocence and naiveté! How intriguing to discover these notes and songs from one’s teen-age and most vulnerable years and be able to share them decades later. They provide a fun and poignant read. Reading Jim Murphy’s words brings a nostalgia I haven’t felt in a while…. smiles, too. These poems are reminiscent of lyrics to so many songs that we all know and love. Bravo, Jim! Katherine Brennand, Educator and Community Activist
A MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE NOVEL
BLBM Publishing, 2017
When coincidental fate brings together Richard Callahan, a brilliant scientist working on a top-secret government project inside the Franklin Mountains in far west Texas, and the lonely, complex Lester Winton, whose exhaustingly fearful world discovers an improbable observation that opens the door to turning back the hands of time, and the self-indulged artist John Andersen, who hangs over his backyard arroyo on his hand-crafted “Jesus Cross” to better understand the suffering Jesus experienced, more than a few sparks fly on the third Tuesday of April 2016.
Our main character, John Andersen, remembers back to when he was a teenager in Syracuse, NY. There was this black man who, with a rope draped around his shoulders and chest, would haul a wooden skiff loaded with rock up West Seneca Turnpike. John Andersen thought maybe he was the Black Jesus. One day John pulled over and asked the man who he was suffering for. The man answered, “His people.” John knew right then and there he wasn’t the Black Jesus because Jesus would be suffering for all of mankind. For forty years John carried the Black Jesus in his thoughts until it was time for John to act. John Andersen ordered a giant eucalyptus tree trunk (a tree common during Jesus’ day) from the homeland of Jesus and had it delivered to his Park North home in El Puente, TX. He proceeded to carve a beautiful, magical cross from the trunk so he could hang over his backyard arroyo tied to the cross and suffer for his people, the Irish and Ukraine, like the Black Jesus did. As you may have guessed, things do not go quite as planned.
Lester Winton, character #2, lived down the hill from John Andersen. Lester was a computer geek and dove into the world of computers as soon as they were available. He had a stockpile of PCs and Macs, and all of the necessary paraphernalia to go along with them. Both John and Lester were musicians and performed in the same band together for years. Lester was never on time for any gig they ever had. In fact, Lester was never on time for anything. This drove John Andersen nuts. One day while hiking up in the Franklin Mountains, Lester fell asleep inside an abandoned silver mine. In his dream, he envisioned Steve Jobs and Bill Gates visiting him, and together they shared a vision. It was decided that if they began to delete everything they had ever typed, backward from the very last document, word by word, line by line until they reached the very first document they ever typed, they would incrementally delete years from their aging lives. From this point forward Lester could focus on nothing else. This didn’t turn out too well either.
Richard Callahan, John Andersen’s drinking buddy, and close neighbor was working on a secret government project inside the hollowed-out North and South Franklin Mountains. He and his team of scientists were duplicating the beginning of the universe. Once invited to view the grounds by Richard “the giant” Callahan, it was the most beautiful exposé John Andersen had ever seen in his entire life. Continuing for more than a decade, the government decides to shut down the project. This didn’t go too well either. Coincidental fate has its fleeting moment in time and the world learns a forgotten lesson.
MY FAVORITE EL PASOANS: PAST AND PRESENT
Murphy's second scheduled book was also for Arcadia Publishing, but after eight months of work, they rejected it. It was called, Legendary Locals of El Paso. Not to be defeated, Murphy changed the title to, My Favorite El Pasoans: Past and Present, rearranged the entire book and added several new characters. A book that the publisher turned down has become his largest seller to date. My Favorite El Pasoans is about famous El Pasoans. Not only movie stars like Debbie Reynolds, Marlon Brando, actress Lydia Cornell, and Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, who each was born in or near El Paso, but regular, hometown heroes as well. Like Tom Ogle who in the 1970s created a new type of carburetor that got 100 miles to the gallon. Once the auto industry found out about it, Tom was mysteriously shot and soon died. How about Eugene Anchondo. He was the first musician to own an electric guitar in El Paso way back in the 50s. Famous folk singer Phil Ochs is from El Paso as well. There are nearly 200 impressive people in this book.
THE RIGHT TO KILL, a 2016 release, is right in tune with today's political madness going on in the United States.
It follows the lives of six young boys in the 1950s and 60s—a time when the United States was still rather innocent, and working-class families were poor, uneducated citizens. The boys make a blood-bound pact to “clean up the neighborhood” at all costs. As time goes by their concept of what is morally acceptable expands and their once simple adventures escalate.
Book critic Tom Ridell's review:
Jim Murphy’s latest book, The Right To Kill, made me cringe. It begins as a dark, grisly, and graphic tale that had me a bit nauseous but then a quick twist in the plot, surprisingly had me cheering on the six misguided and murderous youngsters.
Even though this is a work of fiction, the author took me on a chillingly deadly and dark adventure that had me rethinking the human condition and prompted me to re-examine what our true human nature really is composed of. One of the most ironic, intriguing and haunting aspects of this story is how timely it is given the current political climate. The United States, in this fictional version, is much different than the country that we know but it is eerily close to where we could be if the “right” or “wrong” leader took the reins of our country. It really is up to us to decide.
This is not a book for young readers or the easily offended but it is a book worth reading. The author’s tongue is placed firmly in cheek in this one and the bits of sexual humor will have you laughing hard but have no doubt, the premise of this tale will stick in your mind and have you thinking well after the last page is read.
This one has the legs that could take it to the bestseller list.
I give The Right To Kill 5 stars.
MY LIFE BEFORE I DECIDED TO COMMIT SUICIDE: A Love Story
The crown jewel is Murphy's embellished memoir, My Life Before I Decided To Commit Suicide: A Love Story (now in its second pressing). Describing the writing process, Murphy notes, "I discovered who I might become as a writer. I was finding my voice." Don't let the title fool you, My Life is a series of short stories detailing the sometimes awkward, stumbling events in Murphy's childhood, adolescence and young adult life. My Life, in many ways, or so it has been told by readers, mirrors their own. The self-doubt, the trying to find your way among the masses, looking for love and the challenges endeared, and all else. The reason My Life is referred to as an embellished memoir is due to the fact that he took great license with the truth and created vivid pictures that he is sure you will enjoy. It's one funny book, except for the death thing at the end, but even that is pretty clever.
Reviews - “I have come across very few books in my time that I have felt compelled to tell friends about. Jim Murphy’s embellished autobiography is one of them. The explosions of description are beautiful; the honesty is remarkable; the humor is engulfing. It’s on my list of favorites.” Richard Palmer, Ph.D.
“Few literary geniuses have been able to get a chuckle and a laugh out of me - and yes, a few have caused me to shed a teardrop or two - but Jim Murphy literally had the tears flowing down my cheeks.” Book critic and radio blog host Tom Riddell
“A witty exposé of life lived out in small-town America. Murphy’s rollicking account of adolescent angst is reminiscent of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye; confirming that teenagers are teenagers whether it is 1949 or 1969, every decade before or thereafter. The writing is funny and poignant.” Life and Wellness Coach Bonnie Haines Church
"Worthy to be called "EXCELLENT" 1st Place Winner, Book Publishers of El Paso, TX
My Life has also drawn comparisons to Jean Shepherd's novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which was adapted to screen and renamed, A Christmas Story. The Editor.
The spoiler title did not soften the shock I felt when the suicide popped up in the Prologue. It occurred to me that lazy readers might skip the Prologue, as they are wont to do, zooming straight to the diverting memoirs beginning in the big white house with no grass where the Bob & Betty Circus dominates after Murphy breaks his nose.
The author has a unique sense of humor that readers are bound to appreciate. This humor is liberally laced with sarcasm. The author has a gift of presenting characters as fully-formed stars like the Beehive Lady, with her nosey curiosity, and his childish interpretation of her as a Russian spy.
Murphy has a singular way of presenting stories, like the one about his hamster dying on the same day as JFK. Murphy’s description of the Catholic Church and religion, in general, is unexpected and wry. There is an undercurrent of pathos as his narrative proceeds into young adulthood, of impending sadness, coming to drape itself over this original view of life, and of course, readers must know that because of the warning is given in the title.
This memoir must have been tremendously cathartic to write and it will deeply touch readers who find it cathartic to read. I am glad the author was rescued by his father.
The amount of anger present may put off some readers, but it will attract others. 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Review of My Life Before I Decided To Commit Suicide: A Love Story