Carl Dellorusso, East Boston

Back when Carl Dellorusso was a kid, words were just a mess in his mind. His fifth grade teacher once read a book aloud to the class—a book called Heidi. He loved that book. But Carl didn’t start reading himself until years later, when he went to jail.

So no formal education, but a lot of understanding, is how he sees it. Decades of life spent in Maverick Square—as a bookie, as a bartender, as the owner of Trainor’s Cafe. From the time he was a boy swimming in Boston Harbor, he’s been watching the world go by, calling it like he sees it.

Here, in his own words, is how it’s looked to Carl:

“From the very beginning, it was the Jews, the Irish, the Italian, you know what I’m trying to say? East Boston was an immigrant, blue-collar community. It’s changed with all the Spanish community: it’s nature. I don’t think it’s bad. I think it’s wonderful.

Most people in this community don’t like them. You ask them a truthful question, get them down to ‘What is your feelings towards the immigrants?’ I think they don’t want anybody else to get it because they have it. You know, like the people who moved to the Cape 15 years ago and now they want to put a moratorium on it—nobody can move to the Cape, cause it’s getting too crowded. Wasn’t too crowded for you, though, now, was it?

I try to tell them: ‘See that guy on the corner selling flowers at the lights? That was my grandfather.’

‘What do you mean?’

I say: ‘My grandfather started selling penny carnations, guys going to work. Everybody used to wear suits at that time, the men, so: penny carnations. I look at that guy, I see my grandfather.’

They don’t know what to say when I say that.

I like to tell the rednecks that hate blacks and stuff like that: Hey, you want to know something? They checked out DNA to one black guy walking out of Africa 10,000 years ago. And every person on this earth has his DNA marker in it. We’ve all got a marker, this one guy walking outta Africa. Two Japanese—these guys went around the world for two years taking blood tests, people up in the Andes it’s almost impossible to get blood tests from them because it’s against their hocus pocus stuff like that—and that marker came up in every one. So we all ARE brothers and sisters. So that’s how we have to look at it.

It took me years and years to realize I’m not that dumb of a person. If you speak with me, I’m kind of an intelligent person. But growing up, though, I thought I was dumb.

How many people do you know got thrown out of second grade? So that’s my education. I had none.

And that’s one of my big setbacks in my life. Lack of being able to fill out an application. Lack of being able to do things because I couldn’t spell. To this day, I can’t spell. Five letter word, forget it, I’m in trouble.

I think I had the dyslexics when I was a kid, that’s all. Even to this day, my ex-wife gets furious—I’m divorced twice—I’ll call her my first wife’s name, but I don’t do it intentionally! It just happens, I can’t help it! It’s not like I’m doing it to break her chops.

I call Brady Bledsoe. To this day. How many years Brady been the quarterback? There’s just things I can’t help.

And if you don’t use the basic education, you’re lost. I got through school being a nice guy, always paying attention, I had a lot of friends, I was a good cheater. Certain kids would do my homework. I had it down to a science. I survived on just trying to get by, like.

I’m not ashamed of my life. I feel that, as I get older, there’s different things that I went through made me a better person. Going to jail. Being a drug addict. I did a lot of nasty things in my life. But now I feel I’m making up on it.

I try to give back now. I try to talk to people. I got people kissing my hand, some of these Spanish people, it’s embarrassing. For talking with them, for helping them out.

(When I owned the bar), I had a lot of them in—had to be 20 Spanish people. I used to call them my gang. In the morning, I’d go in at 6, and I’d set the bar up, and I’d drain the bottles of the (alcohol in the) corners. And I’d get all the shots and nips and I used to fill them up. So when the drunks come in, that were shaking like a leaf in the morning, I’d give them double shots.

Didn’t cost me anything but it was something nice for them, you know what I mean? Didn’t cost me nothing to be a big shot, I guess. To have somebody else happy. So that’s what I got from my growing up to now is: I want to see people happy.

Why’s everybody got to be fighting all the time?”

Carl, who now lives in Revere, was interviewed by story ambassador Kathy Whitehouse and photographed by story ambassador Gabbie Follett at Eddie C’s in Maverick Square. Intro text by managing editor Cara Solomon.