Excerpt From The Book


Having attended another school in my old neighborhood for first and second grades, it was my first year at the Catholic school in Southwest Philadelphia where I enrolled in the third grade. My compass had already pointed toward my becoming an urban pirate and making a movie about my adventures, with the radio, movies, comic books, and the TV as my mentors. But it was the abuse at the hands of the clerics in the new school that drove me to become one, as the BAGO Boy.

I wasn’t clear on some Christian doctrine and had lots of questions, but they went unanswered, and I was often punished in class by the nuns, or worse, in the priests’ rectory, just for asking. A typical example of this occurred on a Thursday before Easter.

All Fridays were good, the best day, because it was the last day of school, gateway to the weekend. For me, it was an early “Thank God It’s Friday,” decades before T.G.I.F. was a “thing.”

Nuns at this school wore the full habits of their Polish American religious order, black Muslim-like robes with a white inner hood and bib. Sister Olga, who I dubbed “Sister Ugly,” in retaliation for her naming me “Little Heretic,” wore Ben Franklin glasses that magnified her already bulging eyes. On that Thursday, Sister, standing at the front of the classroom, a black teepee, solemnly raised her rubber-tipped pointer and said, “Class? Who can tell me what tomorrow is?”

Klara, the class kiss up, shot her hand up. “I know!” she said, proudly looking at the surrounding students, self-righteously.
“Please tell the class, Klara,” Sister said, nodding approvingly.
Smiling smugly, she said, “Sister, tomorrow is Good Friday,” with a confident air. “That’s correct, Klara. Thank you.” Sister Olga said, clacking out on the blackboard, white dust flying, “GOOD FRIDAY.”

I agreed, but not for the same reasons. Sister explained. “On this day, Jesus Christ was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. He was forced to carry his cross,” she aimed her pointer to a large crucifix on the wall above the blackboard, “through the streets of Jerusalem to Mount Calvary, where he was crucified. Our Lord suffered and died for your sins!” She glowered, raising her pointer, which I termed a “hit stick,” and swept it along over the heads of all the students, third and fourth grades.

“When we do the stations of the cross, class, we commemorate Jesus’ last day on earth as a man.” She grasped the metal rosary crucifix that hung from her belt. “And three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.” Up went the hit stick, pointing at heaven. Glum faced, she said, “That, boys and girls, is why we mourn on Good Friday,” she tilted her head, smiling, “and celebrate the miracle of Easter.”

This was a problem for me. My hand went up and Sister reluctantly pointed at me. “Yes, Mr. Bradley?” She said it with measured patience, frowning.

“What,” I asked, slipping my hands into my pockets, “is so good about Good Friday?” Her eyes widened and mouth hung open a bit. “I mean, you said they beat up Jesus real bad and then killed him. What’s good about that?”

Her face twisted into a pop-eyed snarl. I’d seen this look before and knew what was coming. Sister, now red faced, her black gowns swishing, stormed down the aisle toward me, waving her hit stick like a sword. The large rosary beads that hung from her belt clacked loudly; her shoes drummed like a kettledrum on the wooden floor. Next to my desk, she pointed her stick at my pants’ pocket. “Pockets! Out!” she yelled, in keeping with her policy that prohibited boys from having their hands in their pockets for fear of inappropriate hand movements there. I yanked my hand out defiantly. She leaned down, so close I could smell her breath. “What–did–you–say?” She separated the words dramatically, lowering the stick to my butt.

What now? I couldn’t take back what I said. I’d have to go with it. “Well, why do you call it good Friday?” I pointed to the crucifix on the wall, Jesus hanging pathetically. “That doesn’t look very good to me!” The class broke out into laughter, and she slapped her stick down on my desktop.

“Quiet!” she screamed, her voice cracking.

It goes downhill from there with her punctuating her words with whacks on my butt from this point on. She told me, with weary anger and butt whacks, that God sent his only begotten son down to suffer and die for my sins. I knew I had done nothing that awful and said so, earning me more whacks as she screamed about “original sin.” I deepened the severity of the incident by asking what somebody else’s sin had to do with me and was taken to the school principal who sentenced me to the rectory for further “punishment.”

This is an example of the questions I asked and how things usually wound up without an intellectually satisfying answer.

I began writing The BAGO Boy in 2016 as a childhood adventure story, Philly River Rats -Young Urban Pirates, that included other exploits of my gang of Philadelphia pirates. As I reflected on my life from about ten to thirteen years old, incidents emerged that shaped my life and this story and are reported here. This is the story of how and why I became the BAGO Boy and still am.

Scroll to Top

Lived two houses down from Joey Ferrari and they were each other’s best friend. Bernie was a science buff, nurtured black widow spiders and snakes in his basement, mostly in glass milk bottles. He went to the same school, about a mile away from the Horseshoe neighborhood. Tall for his age, nine, he towered over all but the local teenagers. He and Joey were inseparable.

He was about a year younger than Brad and Em, the same age as Bernie, nine-years-old. Joe was an inch or so shorter than Brad, about the same height as Em, and went to school at another, much larger, Catholic school that was about a mile away from the Horseshoe neighborhood. He lived across the street from Abe’s Market and was one of the first neighborhood boys Brad met. Joe, as some called him, was with Brad on most of the trips taken on Turtle Pond

She was a rat terrier that my mother got me for my 5th birthday, so she was about 5 years old when she accompanied us on our adventure.  Katie was with me whenever conditions permitted, which is to say, when I rode my bike, she couldn’t go, otherwise, including in bed, she did. She was more tan than white, but both colors and weighted around ten or twelve pounds.

She disliked having two first names, Mary Margaret, or either of them separately, so she her nickname was “Em.” Em came from an affluent family who lived in the Upper Darby suburb of Philadelphia before moving to the Horseshoe. Her mother was active in many service organizations, donating her time. Her father was the captain of a Navy destroyer, based at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which is why the family moved to a historic home on the fringe of Brad’s Horseshoe neighborhood, so he would be closer to his ship. She was about the same age as Brad, and dazzled him with her self-confidence, smarts, and looks when they first met shortly after Brad moved into the neighborhood. Em proved her worth has a pirate, not a girlfriend.

His nickname is “Brad,” but his sister, a few other relatives and Em, his friend who was a girl pirate, called him “Johnny.” Born in Philadelphia, he was living in a rural area of the city until the family moved to a more urban neighborhood, which he dubbed the “Horseshoe.” All of Brad’s gang lived there and most other characters in the book. Although Brad knew early on, he was destined to be a pirate, it was his getting his camera that prompted the idea of making a pirate movie. It wasn’t until he got a pirate ship, that he planned to make a movie about a trip to the island he discovered on a tugboat tour. 

... My articles appeared in TV Radio Mirror, Off Campus and on my non-profit advocacy, established in 2002, Justice On Trial. John Bradley Entertainment produced more than one hundred national broadcasts of Supercross on NBC, CBS, ESPN, in Japan, South Africa and Britain. My company produced some of the first freestyle motocross/Supercross films, Rick Johnson, Profile of a Champion, Ward’s Winning Ways, 1000 Mile Jump, Sick Air, WhatUP!” and many others. I will be completing a new novel, Super Double-Cross - SX 2 , in early 2024.