John is a complicated guy. First of all, he has a real problem with any kind of authority. He is in constant conflict with his father; he lies to his teachers and refers to them as "retarded." In fact, he lies to pretty much everybody, except Lorraine. In school he spends his time setting off firecrackers in the bathroom and playing pranks on substitutes, though he says those days are behind him now.
Despite disliking authority figures and school, he's really smart and can get good grades when he wants to. However, more often he uses his intelligence, good looks, and charm to manipulate people. Lorraine tells us that John is "extremely handsome" (2), and John immodestly agrees: "Like Lorraine told you, I really am very handsome and I do have fabulous eyes" (3). John writes that he's "going to be a great actor" (3), and, with his good looks and imagination, we can well believe it.
John also has a softer, compassionate side, and thinks deeply about the meaning of life and death. Lorraine tells us that John would be "the last person on earth" (2) to show that he has compassion, and that he pretends he doesn't care about anything in the world. He is only fifteen, but is already a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. Let's break this down:
John does not get along with his parents, especially his father, whom he refers to as "Bore." One of the first things we learn about John is that he knows how to manipulate his father. When John's father threatens to put a lock on the phone, to teach John "how to use the phone properly," John replies, "Yeah. No kidding?" "Now it was just the way I said yeah," John tells us, that "set him off," and prompted John's father to put a lock on the phone. However, by putting glue in the lock, John has the last laugh – now no one can use the phone, including his father (3).
One major source of friction between John and his dad is John's dream of becoming an actor. When John tries to tell his father that he doesn't want to wear a suit and carry an attaché case, and repeatedly says, "I want to be me," his dad dismisses his goals with phrases such as "Thank God Kenneth isn't a lunatic" (7). (Kenneth, John's brother, works with his father at the Coffee Exchange, and his parents consider him nothing short of perfect.)
John feels some guilt about his dad. When his father tells John that he (the father) can't take the strain of his job much longer, John reflects:
Every time he says that, I get a little sick to my stomach because I know it's true. He's almost sixty years old, and I know he's not going to be around much longer. (7)
Lorraine says that John's father was "a compulsive alcoholic," but has since stopped drinking (2). John relates a disturbing tale about his father's drinking: at parties, when John was about ten, he would encourage John to drink everyone's beer, and then brag, "That kid's going to be a real drinker" (9). No wonder this prophesy came true. John is more similar to his father than he realizes: he and his father both have strong personalities and a drinking problem (though his father has stopped drinking).
As far as John's relationship with his mother goes, he seems to just try to stay out of the way of her frantic cleaning. John comments that it seems as if she cares about physical objects in the house more than she cares about him (9).
John and Lorraine became friends when he sat next to her one day on the school bus, and they started laughing together. Shortly after this, he invites her for a beer in Moravian Cemetery, where many of the high school students go to drink. John obviously likes Lorraine as a friend, but it is not clear that he has romantic feelings for her until he kisses her fairly late in the novel (in Chapter 11). All the same, John manipulates Lorraine, just as he manipulates everyone else. He is very open about this; for instance, when he is trying to convince her that they should go to Mr. Pignati's to collect the $10, he says something funny that makers her "burst out laughing, and then I knew I had her where I wanted her" (5).John Conlan Timeline