MY HIGH SCHOOL BUDDY GENO:
Early on during my freshman year I had several bouts with homesickness. When I would get “down” I’d write letters. I wrote to everybody I ever knew. For some reason my parents had brought a Clairton telephone on the trip and left it in my dorm room. I looked up the addresses of as many of my former classmates and buddies as I could, and bombarded them, as well as my sisters, parents, and every shirt-tail relative with letters. I wove tales about the beauty of Utah and pressed every one of my high school buddies to consider joining me at BYU. One friend, Geno Tagliotti, took the bait and asked me to send him an application, which I did. I also sent him regular letters about what a great time I was having and included a copy of the newspaper article that had been published with my name attached. It was a story about Clairton and in the article I’d joked about several of the less glamorous parts of the community. It was meant to be satire.
Geno was impressed and showed the article to his mother who showed it to a friend, and it eventually reached the office of the Mayor, who promptly called my father, a city worker, on the carpet. The Mayor railed about how my father’s son was making a mockery of our town and he wondered how my father, a City employee, could tolerate such demeaning behavior toward our lovely city. That night the phone lines between Clairton and Provo were on fire with colorful language and my father let me know that I had “made a fool out of him” (one of his favorite expressions when he was feeling put upon)and reminded me that I was there to get an education, not write foolishness that made fun of the City where I’d grown up. His point was well taken. That ended my career, albeit temporarily, as a writer of newspaper articles about my old home town.
Geno was a much better student than was I in high school and being Catholic, his father was pushing him to attend Duquesne University, a Catholic school in downtown Pittsburgh. Geno wanted to get away from home. One evening during a heated discussion about college, Geno said to his Dad, words to the effect of, “Oh, yeah? Well maybe I’ll go out to Utah and attend school with the Mormons!” His Dad spoke the rejoinder common in those days, “Well don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out,” as he stomped out of the room. In an act of defiance, Geno completed the admissions application I’d sent and began to plan for college in Utah.
By the time my freshman year had ended, my roommate Phil was ecstatic to be rid of me. He moved out and Geno moved in. Fortunately for the both of us, neither was meticulous about his personal housekeeping habits, although I had matured a little after my freshman year.
Every student at BYU was required to take a course in religion each semester. During my freshman year I’d taken Bible Studies, but the rules had changed and incoming freshmen were required to take Book of Mormon. Geno and I signed up to take the class together and I must admit he did not study much that year. When we had our first Book of Mormon course exam we sat next to one another and since I had superior knowledge, having gone through the missionary’s indoctrination my first year, the exam questions were not difficult for me. Geno, however, needed a little assistance which he got by looking at my paper.
A few days later we both received letters to attend a meeting of the Honor Council in reference to possible cheating on an exam. Our times were scheduled back to back. Keep in mind that by my second year I had learned to “play the game” and was easily able to mask the cocky Clairton city-kid attitude when necessary. Geno, not so much. My meeting was first and it went as follows:
“Good morning, Brother N.”
“Good morning Brother (whatever his name was)”
“I’ll cut to the chase. Were you cheating on your Book of Mormon exam?”
“Oh no sir, I would not cheat.”
“Did you notice anybody looking at your paper?”
“Actually, Brother, I did not pay attention to anybody but myself. I took the exam and left the room.”
“Thank you, Brother N. That will be all.” And I left the office, winking at Geno on the way out. Later that day he reviewed his interview with me. It went as follows:
“Good morning, Brother Taglotti.”
“First, Jack, it’s Tagliotti, not Taglotti. Second, I ain’t your brother.”
The young man was taken aback and tried to recover. “Very well, MR. Tagliottii. Why were you cheating on your Book of Mormon test?
“I didn’t cheat.”
“It will be better for you if you were truthful.”
“Look, Jack. Two things I hate are cheaters and liars. You just accused me of being both. If you accuse me of one more thing I didn’t do, I’ll whip your ass.”
“Uhh, ahhh, mmm, Brother, er, Mr. Tagliotti, we will give you a break on this one since it is your first, uh, appearance here.”
Geno, sensing the smell of blood knew he had the little fella on the ropes and pressed his victory, “You ain’t giving me no break cuz I didn’t do nothing…”
And so it went. He won the battle but would not win the war. The campus security force had their eyes on Geno, and by extension on me, his roommate. They would stop us on campus if we rode a bike and say they had received a report of a stolen bike, then hassle us before letting us go. Since they never actually discovered anything illegal, Geno relished in beating them. I was not so bold.