SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
July 22, 1985
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July 22, 1985

The Long Way Up


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Howard Long Sr. had moved back into 7 Albion Place and lived with his ex-wife's mother and brother for nine years, until April 13 when he remarried and moved to East Boston.

He describes his relationship with Howie as "cordial, but we'll never be as close as we should be because of what has happened in the past. I'm not proud of what happened, but what could I do? I was struggling."

He is in his late 40s, youthful looking for a man with a 25-year-old son. Howie owes his height to his father, who stands 6'8" and weighs 230, with black hair and sharply defined features. Sitting in the Mullans' kitchen, his hands gripping a cup of cold coffee, he speaks in subdued tones as he tells a story of Gothic horror about the Massachusetts of his boyhood.

"I lived with foster parents until I was four," he says, "and then I was sent to Plummer Farms School in Winter Island near Salem. It was a terrible, terrible place. You did 10 hours of farm work a day and two hours of school. There was one teacher for the whole place. I was in the sixth grade at 17. There was no talking allowed inside the building. If you were caught talking, they made you hold your hands out, and you were beaten with a leather strap soaked in kerosene overnight. The kids who were too big for that were punched in the face. When I was 17, I was given a choice of staying in the home or going into the Army. I jumped at the chance. I'd never seen a dollar bill until I went into the service, never talked to a girl until I was 18.1 met Peggy Mullan at a record hop in Charles-town as I was rotating out of the Army."

He studies the coffee cup and his hands tighten. "Seven of us went into the service," he says. "Six of them got dishonorable discharges. I was the only one who didn't. I've only met one guy who was in the home when I was there. He was a bum. I saw him on a bench in Boston Common."

He pauses again. "You know," he says, "there was a time when Howie and I almost didn't talk at all. I'm very happy for him now, for what he's done."

It's a life that could have gone in almost any direction, but underneath it all, underlying the bitterness and despair, runs a strong current of self-preservation.

"I never fooled around with drugs, and I was never an outlaw or a punk," Howie says. "Drugs scared me. I thought that if I did any kind of drugs I'd die. It was such an easy choice. It was as if someone said, 'Hey, kid, do you want a hot-fudge sundae, or do you want to hold your hand over a fire?'

"I was a street kid, but that meant hopping a ride on the back of the MTA down to Revere Beach—that's the beach that's made out of concrete—or sneaking into the Boston Garden to watch the Celtics or the Bruins. We had our whole plan of attack drawn up like a battle plan; we'd scratch it in the dirt. I'd cut school and go over to the Lori-Ann Donut Shop and eat doughnuts. I got a job at the pet store near Lechmere, unloading fish tanks. They gave me $10 for unloading a full long-bed truckload. I never broke a fish tank. When I asked for a raise, I got fired.

"My uncle John was a cop at the time, and he got me a job at this bar, the Rusty Scupper, sweeping up. I was 13, and I looked 16.1 stood 6'1", and I had this little broom and dustpan, and the place would be packed and I'd have to bend over and go around people's legs—'Excuse me, sir.'

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