Starting off, can you please tell us
a little bit about your family background and what it was like
up in New Jersey?
O’Sullivan: Yes, well my family was almost entirely Irish, and
we grew up - I grew up in Jersey City in what was essentially an Irish
ghetto–a nice Irish ghetto. I had a large family; in all, I had about
thirty-two first cousins. So Catholics believe in families and having
babies, they had lots of babies. Both of my grandmothers were there,
both of my grandfathers had died before I was born. Once a month we went
for dinner to my mothers’ home, and she was one who had the largest
family. And she was a wonderful crusty, flinty old lady who would sit
any of her grandchildren who was speaking too much like the rest of the
kids in Jersey City next to her–she had a gigantic diamond ring, and
during dinner, if any of us used colloquialisms like “erl” for oil–put
some erl in my car, or “de” for the–dis and dat, or even expressions
like “you know”, she would whack us. And one mark of having sat next to
her was usually a little scar on your cheek for most of the rest of the
O’Sullivan Discusses his
Irish Studies Class (Play
O'Sullivan: And we went around to
Central Florida pubs in alternating weeks and would have our discussion.
Class was in the afternoon, so it wasn’t really interfering with other
people. And the Orlando Sentinel wanted a St. Patrick’s Day story, so
one of the reporters came out. We met the day before St. Patrick’s Day
down at Kate O’Brians, Downtown, Orlando, and the reporter came and sat
with us and wrote a story which was on the front page of the Sentinel.
And it was, I thought and most of the people who read it thought, a
wonderful story because we were talking about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting
for Godot. And some of the students were absolutely brilliant. There
were a number of Asian students in the class, so that the names and
appearance was wonderful. There was a mixed response to it; people read
the story, and I thought people who had a sense of humor all loved it. I
had a lot people calling me asking me if they could audit my courses at
Rollins. But one of the trustees saw the picture, which had the students
sitting around the bar with a couple of pints of Guinness–and the
picture was taken at the very end of the class–and became upset.
Discusses Inviting the Grand Dragon John Paul Rogers to Come Speak to
O'Sullivan: We thought it
would be useful to bring in the grand dragon of the Florida Clan. I was
more awkward about this than Alzo was, but we invited him, and I thought
he’s probably going to put on his PR hat when he comes in, so one of the
things that we did was we invited him to have coffee first with some of
our students. And I probably should be ashamed of saying this, but I
asked the two most attractive blondes in class to meet him and his
bodyguard at the cafeteria and buy them a cup of coffee and talk to them
and then escort them over to class. When they came to class, I found a
way to avoid shaking hands, but Alzo, who was born a politician, went up
and shook their hands and they looked a little startled, but they shook
his hand, sat down and spent the next hour and a half talking about the
fact that they were not anti-black, they were pro-white. They were
giving all the nonsense that the clan and white supremacist groups do,
never used any derogatory language or making political and economic
cases, express their support for black separatist movements. They left,
we thanked them–of course when they’d left, they passed out membership
forms to all the white students in class.
O’Sullivan Discusses the Tar Pit
that Used to be in the Basement of the Bookstore
O'Sullivan: I actually think one of the
great loses was when Rollins closed down the Tar Pit, which was a pub,
which is now the basement of the library–I’m sorry, bookstore–the
basement of the bookstore, which was a wonderful place. When I first
came, I met students there, people would go there, many of them didn’t
drink, but they would go there, faculty would go there after basketball
games–faculty were encouraged to come to the games–when basketball games
were down, have a pitcher of beer or a coke, sit around the table,
students would come up and talk, and there was a sense of interaction.
When students were old enough, they would join the table and sit down.
And I remember that from college, and it was an adult experience, but I
think the more we infantilize students, the more we define the
relationship between teachers and students as parents and children with
an enormous barrier rather than the apprentice concept, which I believe
should be the role for students.
Ritter: Now, that nickname
of yours, Socky, short for Socrates, when did you start using that? When
did that nickname for you come about?
O'Sullivan: Actually, the nickname
came before I was born. My father, was among other things, teaching
philosophy at Seton Hall, and I was due to be born on July 12, which is
a protestant holy in Northern Ireland–Orangeman’s Day, so the students
offered a mass to ask God to keep my mother in labor and I wasn’t born
until the 15th. They claim that she was in labor for three days, but I’m
a little skeptical about that. I think she was just a little bit late.
When I was born in the 15th, the students sent a telegram to the Pope
saying that God had once again shown the victory of the Catholics over
the Protestants by having Socrates O’Sullivan born on July 15th. And it
got to be to be a family joke. My name is my father’s name, I was junior
and growing up in Jersey City, the way the family distinguished us
was–some people were still Big Mo and Little Mo, and Big Maury and
Little Maury, but I had cousins - and it’s Big Ed and Little Ed, and Big
Ed is 5’6, weighs about one hundred and forty pounds, and Little Ed is
about 6’3, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds and he was much
older, so they knew there was a problem with this. So the family started
calling me Socrates, and then Socky.
And in Jersey City, everybody misinterpreted that. As I
mentioned before, I grew up in an Irish ghetto. My brother was a couple
years younger, and when he went off to college, he had no front teeth,
he had a plate in there, he had no cartilage in his nose, it had been
broken, one arm had been broken and one leg had been broken in fights.
Nobody would touch me because a rumor started in the Italian
neighborhood that there was a kid in the Irish neighborhood was so tough
that he became a professional fighter at eleven and his name was Socky.
And when I eventually met Italians, they would say, Are you the Socky
O’Sullivan, were you really a professional fighter? I was just a pudgy