Note: This bio isn't here to brag about myself, to make people think I'm some impressive and perfect candidate, this incomplete and rough drawn bio is a sketch of a very imperfect person or candidate for office. I have tried to be as honest and open as my memory allows and beg your forgiveness and understanding (as I do with my family). I am blessed that so many of you, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents have signed my petitions and been so much more than kind, opening your doors, inviting us in, even bringing out cold sodas on hot days for me and my children when we were out in your neighborhoods. Thank you, and again, there is nothing I am bragging about, I just think that you should know your representatives as well as possible, and this is me.
I was born into a working-class family at 2:05am on December 16, 1957. My 31 year old father Ed, worked as a baggage clerk or 'Red Cap' for the railroad. My 24 year old mother Dolores, sometimes worked as a book-keeper, sometimes as a waitress. The proud parents took their son from the Frank Cuneo Hospital to our North-Side apartment, where, I'm told...we all celebrated Christmas together...
I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as had members of my family for generations through-out the centuries. Most of the remaining sacraments, that of Penance, the Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation (where I took on the name of Francis) took place at Saint Michael's Catholic Church on the South-Side of Chicago, where I grew-up and went to school in a poor, largely European immigrant neighborhood, in the shadows of the steel mills.
Through these formative years, I learned to speak Polish from my maternal grandparents. I learned most sports with my friends, Billy and Tommy, Bobby and Jimmy, Janice and Butch, and neighborhood new-comers Ray and Dean. We were all poor kids and on the fifth of July, we'd sometimes go out looking for unexploded fireworks. One such 5th of July, Dean and I went out in search of something to 'play' with...Dean found it! A firecracker! He had a packet of matches in one hand and the fire cracker in another...he said: 'Hey Riley, watch this!' He lit the firecracker and accidentally threw away the match, squeezing the burning firecracker in his hand!
BOOM!!! I was horrified, I couldn't speak, as I watched the firecracker go off in my friend's hand! Wanting to be a doctor, I rushed my friend to the basement of my house and we washed out his wound (it wasn't so bad), and then, knowing it had to be sterilized, I poured my grandmother's rubbing alcohol all over the burnt and torn wound! Dean screamed out in pain and anguish. I jumped away. But, Dean didn't lose his hand and his sore healed! My first medical success story!
Among the Franciscan nuns and lay teachers at Saint Michael's Elementary School and W.K. Sullivan, that stood out were: Sister Mary Roberta - my kindergarten teacher. When she scolded me for talking too much, I responded: 'But sister, I can't help it...it's the Irish in me.' Sister Mary Vincenta - all the kids knew her as Sister Atom Bomb, because if you forgot your homework, were slow, or whatever...she would EXPLODE, like an atomic bomb! Miss Shirley - the fourth grade blonde bombshell! Every young boy's fantasy teacher. Mrs. Marx - Sister Atom Bomb's angry twin! She would turn blue when she yelled (and this was in a public school!). And yet, even she had her moments...she was very worldly and well travelled, and on some afternoons she would tell us about the places she had seen and things she had done. There were brief moments when she was a great teacher and a nice person.
Playing baseball, football, hockey, and games like tag and army...going fishing and sometimes to triple feature films at the Roseland theater with my father, Edward James Riley, Jr., was how I would spend most of my free time.
My first 'crushes' were with several Latin girls. There was Alma, a very 'developed' girl who would bend over the front of my desk, peer into my eyes, and ask for help with her homework...I did her homework for her, almost daily! There was Nina, who I walked home everyday after school. And, there was Maria who I daydreamed about all the time. ...And there was Olivia, who's personality was perky and spicy and who I would go on to high school with!
I started high school at James H. Bowen High School where there was a riot a day during one of our seven different lunch periods! I enrolled in the U.S. Army's Jr. R.O.T.C. program and attended the U.S. Air Force's Civil Air Patrol meetings. Olivia, now wearing mini-skirts and developing in her own right was my lab partner in biology. She would hop up on the stool next to me and catch me spying her shapely legs, maybe a glance of her thigh...and she'd smile asking: 'Am I making you hot Jimmy?' She was! And then, she'd do all our lab work...even my lab notebook for me. Then, my father was in a terrible explosion at the General Mills grain elevator! He was the only worker to survive, having sustained third degree burns over ninety percent of his body! The doctors prepared the family for the worst case scenario, but my dad was stubborn and proved all the experts wrong! With over a year of hospitalization, my mother kept the family together and we visited my father everyday.
The family moved and I began attending a new school in South Holland, Illinois. Taking new classes, from Basic Electricity to Latin to German, I made new friends, to include Tom Yanashatis. Tom was wirey and hyper, yet a good friend who was dubbed: 'Moses.'
Riding our bicycles through the streets of South Holland, Tom and I found two girls, Diane and Debbie riding along a street. On mostly a dare from 'Moses,' I rode up to them and started talking. My 'Irish' came out again, and before we knew it...we rode to Diane's house, invited to have some soda. Soon, Diane and I were 'an item.' We spent most of our free time together, riding bikes, talking at her house, visiting the local forest preserve...
Having kissed my first girl in kindergarten (Mary Ann), and several crushes after my fourth grade teacher (to include my biology lab partner, Olivia), Diane was really my first 'girlfriend.' It was an innocent time and our relationship lasted through a beautiful summer. Yet, everything that begins must end, and so it was with me and Diane.
The next 'romance' came unexpectedly. I was out for a walk with a younger friend, a neighbor. It was just starting to snow and we must have walked through two or three suburbs, from Calumet City, Illinois to Riverdale, Illinois. My friend urged me to stop at a local market for some soda. We walked into and across a parking-lot to the storefront. I was in awe as a beautiful Italian girl stood out in the cold selling raffle tickets for her school. I was in awe, but she spoke first! As we walked out of the store, she walked-up to me and asked if we would like to buy some raffle tickets. Her friend Charlotte came up behind her and we all started talking.
We went to an Italian pizza parlor and LuAnn and I could only talk to each-other, Charlotte and my other friend forgotten. We had something to eat, something to drink, who knows? But, I left Riverdale with her phone number! From restaurant dates, to walks, to films (our first film was: 'The Sting), and even my junior prom...our relationship lasted years.
The most formal event Lu and I attended in those years was the Thornwood High School Junior/Senior Prom. She had a dress specially made and gave me a swatch of the material to match with the bouquet I would get for her and my tuxedo. My father said that he was going to drive us__I thought he was kidding. After-all, I was old enough to drive and I had the license...and every father I ever heard of let their son borrow the car for their prom! Well, my father wasn't kidding. He meant well, but what a social blunder! I was the only person I knew of whose father drove him that night. Then, he waited outside. Mind you, I understand the devotion that took...he waited all night. But, for a sixteen year old, it was embarrassing.
Nothing ever bothered LuAnn though. Well, she could have a temper...but, she always seemed to understand whatever came our way. She told me that if she had known, her dad would have let me use their car. Still, we looked like quite the couple that night, she was beautiful.
We danced and ate and had a wonderful time. She looked good, felt good, smelled good, and above all, she was charming and witty and funny. I was sure that I was in love.
There was something special that I wanted to do for her that night. She always told me about an eatery, The Martinique where they had a theater-in-the-round, and how much she wanted to go there. I had scrimped and saved, and I had our driver (my dad) take us there as the prom wound down to a close.
We ate and drank and danced some more. We even joked that we would have our wedding reception here. Then, our bill came. It was for more than I had! I wasn't too concerned, Lu always brought some money with her...I was just so embarrassed. So, I discretely leaned across the table and told her. Her eyes widened in horror, the color faded quickly from her cheeks, and she exclaimed: "I didn't bring anything!"
Now, my father was just outside so things still weren't as bad as they could have been. Just a few minutes more and I would have realized that. I would have been glad that he drove us!
But the hostess saw us...she spotted us from across the dance floor, ashen faces, wide-eyed, frozen in fear. She walked over to the table and smiled kindly, asking: "You don't have enough, do you?" We looked at each-other and admitted the terrible truth.
The hostess nodded her head and took pity on us: "Look, it happens all the time, it's okay, how much do you have?" We paid what we could and left very grateful. Later LuAnn returned and paid the rest, even bringing something extra to thank the hostess.
Because of burns and skin grafts and scars, Ed Riley had to move to a warmer climate. My mother and I flew to California, my father drove the car and all our possessions cross-country - adventurously following the old US Route 66. ...And, once again, I found myself in another high-school and another city, Blair High School in Pasadena, California.
In Blair High, I took new classes and had new responsibilities (for instance: tutoring gifted students at near-by Allendale Elementary School, and teaching female freshmen golf and swimming during gym classes). I had new friends, like Michael, and Angela.
Mike and I shared common interests, from television engineering to camping-out in the Palmdale desert. I took a practical, hands-on class in television engineering at K.Q.I.29, Pasadena's educational television channel.
I then met and courted Angela, a girl of Chinese, English, and Portuguese lineage who was born in Hong Kong and raised mostly in Great Britain and Medford, Oregon. Angela's father worked as an accountant for an American Multinational company, and, although he argued politics (especially Anglo-Irish history), treated his daughter and her boyfriend to many meals in Asian restaurants through-out Southern California.
By the end of high school, after having worked at three different McDonald's restaurants in two states, I started attending classes at Pasadena City College and working as a courtesy-clerk (box boy) for the Safeway Supermarket in South Pasadena, California. Angela returned to England with her family.
One night, I was about seventeen and still living with my mom and dad, I came home from work. I worked at night and went to PCC during the day. I took out some food to barbecue by the pool, and a couple of my friends came by. One of them was getting married the next day. So, this was a kind of bachelor party...and they were drinking margaritas.
'Come on Jim, have a drink' they pleaded. I never cared much for drinks, so it was easy to say no. They asked again, and I said no again (now I was thinking about my folks, who were very strict about things like that). Finally they asked, and sadly, my friend said: "Come on Jim, I'm getting married tomorrow?" What could I say to that? So, I took a drink.
We talked and laughed and the first drink didn't taste so good, but the second was better and the third and the fourth...eventually, they were REAL GOOD. The food was gone, and another friend, knowing how my parents were asked me if I wanted to go to his place, have some chicken and Kool-Aid and sober-up. Okay, I said, it seemed like a good idea.
He gave me the biggest glass of Kool Aid that I think I ever saw. I ate the chicken he offered and did sober-up. At least I thought I was sober enough to go home.
In the hall, I met my other friends again. Come on over for a little bit, they asked. No, I gotta go, I answered. Oh Jim, I'm getting married tomorrow, my friend reiterated: and besides, you don't HAVE to drink, we can just talk. Okay, I went.
I noticed something was wrong when we talked for a while...I turned to my friend George and asked: 'How come you keep looking more and more sober?' As the words escaped me, I thought how could that be unless I'm getting drunker?
Eventually, I turned to another of my friends and told him how much I liked his wife (she would always come down to the pool in her bikini and we'd flirt, but nothing ever happened). "We like you too" he said with a smile. "No, no, no...you don't understand" my mouth said against my will: "I REALLY like your wife." "She likes you too Jim, she's always talking about you" he answers. I'm horrified, but I can't stop myself and I keep telling him how much I'm infatuated with his wife. Finally, to punctuate my words (I don't remember this part) I threw the table at him! I tore down a bookshelf! I fought another friend (I don't remember any of this except hearing this friend yell: "Ouch, dammed it, he hit me again!"
It turned out that they got what they deserved though. You see, they were pouring the tequila in my Kool Aid, behind my back! And, I got soooo drunk, I thought I was drinking Kool Aid, when in the end, I was drinking straight tequila!
They tried to shower me (with my clothes on) to sober me up, they took me home in a shopping cart, and the next day when one of my friends checked-up on me (actually explaining to my mom what had happened), I had the wrath of my mother screaming at me (with a bad hang-over).
I then met Annie, refreshingly different and obviously poor...or so I thought. I'd help her and her mother to their car with bags of groceries from time to time...
Annie came back again and again, often in another car that looked like it was on its last leg, sometimes she'd be with her mother, sometimes with one of her sisters, sometimes alone.
Once, when I was walking home in the dark of a night on sidewalks not cleared for walking in years, Annie drove-by and stopped...she offered me a ride and I took it. We sat outside my apartment building for a while and I offered: 'Maybe sometime I could take you out for a coffee?' 'Sure,' she responded with a youthful and energetic gush. We went out several times before one night, when Annie asked me over the phone: 'Um...my parents would like to meet you?' Confident, I said: 'Sure.' She gave me her address, and the directions. When she mentioned the proximity to the Wrigley Mansion, I asked her again.
I walked over, looking past one mansion and then another. The big houses, all pretentious seemed to peer down at me as an intruder. I found the address, a huge white mansion stood proudly on the well manicured lawn... 'No'; I told myself, finally looking around the side for a gardener's shack or servant's quarters, or something, anything but a mansion.
Not that Annie seemed low class, she was intelligent and well-read, but she was so unpretentious. Then the lights to the mansion came on, and I thought: 'How nice, the owners are so decent to let them live in the house.'
Needless to say, the family was well-off, rich by my working class standards. Her friends were even richer. At times it seemed they thought that was why I dated their daughter. If they only knew, I thought she was poor...I cared for her because I liked her. But the pressure eventually broke us up.
Hurt but proud, arguing with my father about everything, disillusioned with school, and dreaming of travel and opportunities I quit my job at Safeway, quit P.C.C., and enlisted at a U.S. Army Recruiter's Station in Old Pasadena. When I sat my father down at the kitchen table and told him the news, he stared at me for a few silent minutes and then said: 'Oh shit.'
I was sent to do Basic Combat Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. From my aptitude test, as 'trainee' or Pv1 Riley, I was selected to attend the U.S. Army Prep School in New Jersey and then the United States Military Academy at Westpoint! I called my mother and father and they were proud. My father went to Safeway and told my former boss, and he said he was proud of me too. Drill Sgt's Barker and Snow of 'D-7-3,' the Delta Devils, were already calling me Lieutenant Riley. One day, Drill Sergeant Snow, the senior drill instructor, called me into his office. 'Lt. Riley'; he barked (in a room packed full of drill instructors). 'Yes drill sergeant'; I screamed back, standing at attention. 'I got some paper-work from that thar Westpoint'; he shouted out at me, hardly able to contain his own laughter: 'And they want to know about you!' 'Do you know what I told them'; he asks. 'No drill sergeant'; I scream back. 'I told them...'; Snow says, pausing to look around at the other drill instructors: 'That you are the meanest, toughest, S-O-B to ever come through these gates at Fort Dix!' The tough, dark-black soldier flashes a brilliant smile and adds: 'But Riley, we know that ain't true, don't we?' The room erupts in laughter and even I had to smile in this sterile military environment!
Part of my training at Fort Dix, was led by an N.C.O. teaching a class that involved maiming enemy soldiers through the use of explosives and mines to inflict greater casualties than just killing one soldier at a time. The Sergeant taught us how to use a weapon that fired shot-gun type shells that contained nail/staples that, if the enemy infiltrated your perimeter, would literally staple him to the tree or building behind him! As a weapon of last resort, I could understand its necessity, but this sergeant seemed to relish the idea of killing and maiming. This affected me to the point of having nightmares and turning down my possible West Point nomination (which was not yet a certainty anyway).
From Fort Dix, I was sent to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York where I was trained as a ‘71M20 (Chaplain’s Assistant - Chapel Activities Specialist).’ New York was a wonderful place to visit, great people, places, and things. It was the one place where the USO really seemed to help enlisted men. There were free tickets to shows on and off Broadway, free tickets to films, free vouchers for food at great restaurants...and hot dogs and soda. They were very friendly and helpful. The Catholic Church also had an organization in place to help young soldiers and they held dances to help us socialize. I even went out with one of the Irish girls I met at one of the dances. Then, I went out with another soldier for a short time, her name was Lisa. Her mother lived near 42nd Street and they were very nice too.
I graduated from the 71M20 Advanced Individual Training (A.I.T.) and took off for Germany. I arrived in Frankfurt, at the Rhein-Main Air Force Base, what the military refers to as the gateway to Europe. Somehow, I got off the plane and got mixed in to a group of infantry soldiers. A sergeant met us and started barking orders, ‘You, get your butt in that bus!’ So, I got in the bus. We were driven through the streets, and into an old fort, kaserne as they’re called in Germany...the sergeant and some other N.C.O.’s started screaming at everybody! They barked incomprehensible orders at soldiers dazed from a trans-Atlantic flight and in awe of their new surroundings. As we scrambled to our quarters and duties at this holding station from hell, someone said they saw bullet holes in the walls outside. ‘...From the second world war’; someone else opined behind us. I didn’t have time to look back.
‘Private Riley’; I heard someone call: ‘Is there a Private Riley here?’ I ran, I snapped to attention, I wondered what was next! A Sergeant Major stood before me and he said he was sorry. ‘Sorry’; I thought without saying a word. “Turns out there’s been some kind of mistake, we didn’t know you were a Chaplain’s Assistant.’ ‘Mistake’; my heart raced up from the pavement it fell to earlier. ‘Someone’s coming to get you in just a few minutes’; the SGM explained. I smiled, gratefully.
‘Private Riley’; someone called again. I ran and met Chuck, the Mainz Military Community N.C.O.I.C. He would be my boss for the next couple of years. He didn’t yell, he talked to me like a human being, and he took me away from this hell hole in the middle of Frankfurt to my new home, Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz, Gonzenheim, West Germany.
Assigned to the Headquarters Headquarters Company (HHC) of the 1st Brigade, 8th Infantry Division, I climbed through the enlisted ranks from Private-1 to Pv2, PFC, and Specialist 4. I took college classes with the University of Maryland (European Division) and traveled throughout West Germany, into East Germany (attached to the Soviet Army), Austria, France, and I hitch hiked through Italy!
Taking an air hop (which is like hitch hiking on an Air Force plane) to Siganola, Sicily, I thought I’d hitch hike along the Italian coast, camping-out on the beaches or staying at hotels. The first people to pick me up were from a small village with ancient buildings and cobblestone streets...and they wouldn’t hear of it (my plans to camp-out). They asked: ‘Where are you going to stay?’ I answered, struggling with my one semester of college Italian, two years of high school Latin, and a small Italian/English dictionary (not to mention a great deal of pointing): ‘Out there on the beach.’ The men share a look at my sleeping bag, at me, and then at each-other. ‘No’; they argue: ‘You can not stay out there, you come home with us!’ Before I could object, we pulled off the autostrada (highway) onto some secondary road that led into Villa San Giovanni at the base of Mount Etna!
Getting out of their car, it wasn’t hard to imagine that this was pretty much what Roman soldiers may have seen when they came to pull duty on this independent-minded island. We stood before a building, a former palace, now subdivided into apartments. The tenants had folding chairs and mattresses and that seemed to be it for furnishings. We walked through another door and found ourselves in a large room, it must have been a stable before; I think to myself. Suddenly another door opens and one, two, three, several of the young men of the village walk in. A man named Gino comes in with a guitar. The whole town knows there’s an American in the midst and they want to meet him and learn American songs!
No drugs, no liquor, I’m sure we had some kind of snack, maybe some soda...but this got to be a lot of fun. What I didn’t know, they prodded me to make-up! In broken Italian, I bragged about what a soldier I was! We laughed and sang, and to this day, if you hear someone singing an old American song and they have the wrong words, it’s probably my fault!
No-one in the room spoke English, or so it seemed. Then, in the middle of a song, someone behind me whispers: ‘By the way, you know we are all communists, don’t you?’ I quickly turned my head, but I saw no-one. News reports about the infamous Red Brigade, a group of fanatical Italian Communist Terrorists suddenly ran through my head! Suddenly, the stories about my Patton-like bravado change. I think about how most Italians are still Catholics and talk about how closely I work with our priest, Father Wayne, and the monastery in Mainz of the Oblates!
The night soon ends and a small group of the locals take me to another building. It’s an unfinished apartment building (if it gets ‘finished,’ the Italian government taxes it at a much higher rate!). The building has no electricity, it’s dark and looks deserted. A plank of plywood, secured by a rusty old padlock serves as the front door...
‘SNAP!’ A key opens the padlock and the plank swings open on its rusty hinges. We make our way up the rough-hewn staircase leading up to the second floor, the way illuminated by lanterns and candles. It’s all surrealistic, like something out of a bad movie.
I find myself on the second floor, in a room, the walls papered with the pictures of Marx and Lenin, and every communist who ever lived! Or so it seemed. At one end of the sparsely furnished apartment was an old army cot. “This could be where the Red Brigade held that judge before they killed him”; I thought to myself, engulfed in paranoia.
“We’ll go now”; one of the Italian’s informs me: “...and lock the door behind us.” “No”; I practically scream at my imagined captors! I’m as surprised as anyone as the exclamation escapes my lips. A dark, young Sicilian smiles knowingly and asks: “You don’t trust us, do you?” “No, no, I just...”; fumbling for an answer I come-up with: “What if there’s a fire?” Everyone smiles, someone in the back even chuckles. “Okay”; someone offers: “We won’t lock the door.” “Then, in the morning”; they tell me: “We’ll come and get you and take you to the autostrada.” I begin to learn to trust them and I eventually do fall asleep, only to be awakened as they promised and taken to the highway before they have to go to school and work.
I found myself riding in everything from a ferry to the mainland (Italy), to luxury cars, economy cars, and even a hay cart pulled by a donkey. The Italian countryside, the views from cliffs above the sea, the people, it was so much more than I expected. I rode and walked past ancient fields, through ancient towns and markets, I visited ancient sites. I fell in love with a country, its culture, and finally, the people. No-one could have been more welcomed anywhere in the world!
Finally, just outside of Naples, near a large U.S. Naval Base...my luck seemed to falter, it looked as though I was going to have to camp-out. It also looked like it might rain! So, being the ‘soldier’ that I was, I started to look for some cover. A near-by building with an overhanging roof seemed to offer some protection. All the lights were out, and the parking lot was empty, this place seemed vacant.
Carefully, I laid out my army issued sleeping bag. I crawled inside and pulled shut the zipper to shut out the cool Mediterranean night chill. It didn’t take long though, I sensed something, I felt something, a presence I guess you would say. Unzipping the bag and sticking my head out, I was almost blinded by the high-beam headlights of a late model BMW parked just inches from where I was lying!
A tall, dark, menacing figure stands next to the car, next to the bright lights_hands on his hips, he stares down at me. “Escuso, Escuso”; I say in my best broken Italian, rolling-up my gear: “Escuso?” The tall man staring down at me relaxes his face and smiles, offering: “No, no, is okay, is okay!” “Is okay”; I ask to be sure. “Is okay”; the man says in a thick but friendly Italian accent while nodding his head. So, I unroll my sleeping bag and crawl back in, but the lights don’t go off, the car doesn’t move, and the Italian continues to loom over me. He waits, he watches, he stares at the American trying to sleep in his parking lot.
Feeling uneasy, and sensing that this man isn’t about to leave, I get up and start to roll up my gear again. I repeat the mantra: “Escuso, escuso...” I hope that I haven’t done anything that’ll get me into trouble and that this man isn’t some kind of a killer or something. “No, no, is okay, is okay”; the man insists. ‘Is okay my butt’; I think to myself as I get ready to leave.
'...And then what happened Jim?'
I WANT TO KNOW
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