Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Train Wreck at CBGB?

We decided to take our act downtown and secured an audition at CBGB/OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues and Other Music For Unusual Gastronomics). A couple of years earlier, Richard Hell talked owner Hilly Krystal into letting them perform at what was a rundown biker bar. His band Television began appearing regularly and was soon followed by Patti Smith and the Ramones. Soon word got out and bands were coming out of the woodwork to play there. They had a big showcase that summer and I was considering going down with Spoiler VI but we had enough on our plate, as you saw, and I didn’t think much of the whole scene at the time. As it turned out, the Village Voice began headlining the Next Big Thing and, suddenly, we found ourselves at the end of the line.

I was working to improve our stage act because I knew, with all the work-in-progress songs and volume problems (that would plague us throughout my NYC career), it was our ace-in-the-hole regardless of where we played. I introduced the Smoking Skull at Max’s, which was a skull propped on a stand into which I inserted a colored smoke bomb that had a great effect. We played our first open mic in Bay Ridge where I tossed my first fireball. It barely missed Alma’s head, which created an even bigger impact. Together with my gymnastics and the dancing girls, we made quite a spectacle wherever we went.

My parents actually came out to our CBGB debut, the first of five appearances there. Our first show was on the small stage, actually a platform about the size of a wrestling ring. I was psyched up and half-cocked, and I made a bigger spectacle of myself than at Max’s. Lou Cazucci later said that I was not only his favorite rock singer, but the only person he’d ever played with who he had lost sight of during the show with all my lunging about. Nevertheless, Krystal’s bookers decided we weren’t quite ready and offered a rematch.

Somewhere along the line we lost our vision, due to a number of reasons. Louie and I were having philosophical differences, largely because he was focusing on musical development while my priority was the stage show. His relationship with Al was also deteriorating, largely because Al resented Lou’s superior ability. It would come to a head with the Ducky Boys years later when Al took over on guitar and would not make room for Lou. Anyway, Lou was expanding his horizons and was not only making new connections in Bay Ridge but in Manhattan as well. Lou was looking towards the door again, but I did not suspect he would be gone for good as a Spoiler. In the meantime, I had been researching 60’s metal and began channeling Robert Plant, of all people. Somehow Spoiler VII morphed into Spoiler VIII, and the Cazucci Era was soon to come to an end.

Mondo Acido was perhaps the first documented proof of the level of achievement we had finally reached. We copied it from reel-to-reel to an 8-track tape which I am sure is in safekeeping somewhere. It featured what constitutes a lost world of Spoiler music, most half-baked but none without promise that may yet be recovered one day. “I Wish She Was Waiting For Me” was what Louie and I would be our first commercial hit. Isn’t ignorance blissful! There were also the aforementioned “Barbarella” and “Yolanda Told Me”, as well as “Monday Morning Push On”, another MOR (*media-oriented radio) hopeful, “Smash That Child” (a song against child abuse), and “Jamaican Vacation”, a song in which Louie structured three exotic bridges between verses. It was no wonder that Louie and I were so starry-eyed. Ours was a magic relationship and we were churning out quality songs at a level unmatched until Spoiler Y2K. Looking back, it is astounding that no one ever discovered what we were accomplishing in that small apartment. But, as you will see, my life has been a series of tales to astonish.

John Momo was a Bay Ridge kid who made friends with Louie and eventually became the first ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’, debuting in Spoiler VIII as our new bassist. Momo would resurface as Johnny B. Zyklon and set his mark as the greatest Spoiler guitarist, second only to Louie Cazucci. Yet it was the arrival of the Di Bernardo brothers that would make the biggest impact since Sherry and Zing.

Eddie Polito was the younger of the two, a powerhouse drummer wearing a big Afro which made him look like Dictators’ singer Handsome Dick Manitoba with glasses. After blowing our CBGB’s showcase debut, we scheduled our rematch with Eddie on drums and Momo on bass. I felt like I blew the show by altering my BT Superstar image, coming off with my new Robert Plant look replete with wrist bandanas, a no-no in an anti-hippie punk club. Yet we were all shocked when Eddie’s throne collapsed, causing him to walk offstage in the middle of a song to get a new chair! When his brother Frankie came around, bragging he was the one who taught Eddie to play, we fired Eddie and hired Frankie forthwith.

Once again, Louie once again decided to pull up stakes, but this time it was a life change that took him out of Brooklyn on into Manhattan. Frankie next went on hiatus, leaving me with no inkling of what to do next. That left me picking up the pieces, which constituted three failed Spoiler projects in the space of one year. There were plenty of candidates around but I had to find a way to make the band hold together and keep the campaign going. As they say, crisis brings opportunity, just as the converse often holds true. I would learn this lesson well when Benny Rock climbed aboard. 

(To be continued...)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going to (Max's) Kansas City?

El Bolero was the place where Alma, Mighty Vince and I had stopped for drinks after the premiere of Rollerball months ago. Mighty Vince was an acne-scarred amateur bodybuilder who had an IQ somewhere around his chest size, and was totally infatuated by Alma. Hours after we left, a drug deal went sideways and the club manager ended up shooting a pusher and burying him in the basement. The cops caught up with them and it became part of neighborhood legend. As you can imagine, it didn’t do well for business. The place was as dead as that drug dealer for some time. I decided to drop in and persuade the club owner, Andy, that what he needed was the Spoiler to remedy his ailing business. He was desperate enough to try anything, and readily agreed.
Once again, we were able to draw upon our circle of friends to put asses in seats. My parents showed up, as did Lea and her beau, John Pineda from Scorpion Karate. We also had quite a few people from the neighborhood who were piqued with curiosity. It marked the debut of the Leatherettes, who appeared more exotic to some than the rest of us did. I spiced things up during “Barbarella, Queen of Pain”, our Reed-style BDSM song, by gnawing on my arm until the red stuff was all over the place (I heard Manny tell Mom, “Did you see him go in his pocket?”). We played a good show but agreed with Andy to take time to regroup before we tried it again, this time with a new lineup. Louie cashiered Rob Monster because the poor fellow couldn’t see the frets on the bass guitar. Luckily, reinforcements were on the way.
Osborne “Zing” Rampersad was a tall, lanky West Indian kid who was introduced to us by Abdul Martin, a cabbie who caught our first show at El Bolero. Zing was actually called Bing by his friends from the Isles, and I suspect it was because of the Crosby-like summer hat he favored. It’s hilarious to think about how laidback he was back then. We invited him out for a tryout on guitar and he was awful, so we asked him if he’d like to play bass. He ran out and bought a monolithic amp and a high-priced bass, the best gear in our entire arsenal. I had gone out and bought a Radio Shack PA system that paled in comparison. Zing’s bass playing wasn’t much better but you can get away with murder on bass, so we were pretty well set with Zing in the pocket. Later on he would switch back to guitar, which was a fatal error career-wise. When he overhauled his image into a hardcore blood-and-guts punk rocker, however, he gained immortality as a Spoiler icon beyond his untimely death in 2009.
Sherry Smith was a buxom blonde Jewish girl who had corresponded with me through a musicians’ classified ad. She auditioned for the band and, though she had it locked before even tuning up, clinched the lead guitar spot by nailing Richie Blackmore’s “Smoke on the Water” riff. Sherry and Zing came together with Bob, Al and and I to form Spoiler VI, the strongest lineup to date. We played El Bolero twice and also hit Los Panchos, another Puerto Rican lounge in the ‘hood. We were starting to write new material and it seemed like we just might hit the next level.
My neurotic, emaciated image bit me in the butt once more as Sherry and I grew closer. She invited me to her home one evening and we engaged in some heavy petting but never consummated the deal with her Rottweiler watching us closely. After that, I began coming on, as she described it, like a lovesick puppy. Jewish women (like Debbie Cantrell) are strong maternal figures and require a dominant male to balance their lives. A wimpy Lou Reed clone would simply not do. She told me the deal was off, and I gave her the boot from the band, which was a shitty thing to do.
The end of Spoiler VI came at what turned out to be the last show at El Bolero. Zing had somehow gotten the impression that I didn’t want to do shows or promote the new material and bailed out along with Sherry. We parted amicably though I would not see Sherry again; she stopped by months later with friends but I wasn’t about. At any rate, musicians were still stopping by though I had grown disillusioned and disinterested. There was a jam session almost every week but…no vocals. I was sick over how things were going and, frankly, sick of myself. I knew things had to change, and they did.
Once again I returned to my roots in hitting the weights and dumping my Lou Reed caricature. Florida Championship Wrestling was blinking in and out of our UHF airwaves, and not only Dusty Rhodes but eventually Don Jardine, the Spoiler himself, provided inspiration for my next metamorphosis. I put back on about ten pounds of muscle and was stylin’ and profilin’ just about the time Superstar Billy Graham not only resurfaced in the WWF but actually took the title from Bruno Sammartino. The ‘new’ Broadway Turk Superstar was the self-styled ‘American Nightmare’ and was going to take the new group all the way to the top.
About that time, Chico Rock and his family began having more of an effect on our lives. Sometime after I had visited them along with the Merceds over the holidays, Chico decided to take me up on my offer, coming by with his entire family to watch the band rehearse. I was out of it as usual in those days, and only remember a large group of stone-faced kids peering in from the kitchen to watch the maelstrom developing in the practice room. Though it was some time before any of the kids returned, Chico became a familiar face and began inviting us to his home more often. Once they got to know us, the Rocks became an integral part of our infrastructure.
 Luvi Rock was the third daughter and the apple of Chico’s eye, his Rookie of the Year. She was a cute and shapely lass (as were most of the Rock girls) and we hit it off well. We dated once but somehow I got sidetracked after her older sister Yvonne. Not only would Yvonne play me for a fool, but Al took the opportunity to hook up with Luvi, and theirs was the match that lasted to this day. Luvi teamed with Alma to reform the Leatherettes, but would eventually give place to her sister Suli, who was destined to become one of the last of the NYC Spoiler members.
1976 was an idyllic time for us. The Philadelphia Flyers had kicked the crap out of the NHL and were the new Stanley Cup champions. They rekindled my hockey spirit, inspiring me to get Sue Swingle from work to drive me to Gramercy Park for a new Flyers uniform. Of course, I chose Dave “The Hammer” Schultz’s Number Eight. I hooked up with Johnny De Losa and he got me in with his new team on Douglass Street, who had been playing against a team of older fellows from Red Hook. I came aboard and we gave those fellows nightmares after them having run roughshod over the kids all winter. Needless to say, I had gotten in better shape and brought a better attitude to band practice.
One of the unforgettable people I met during this time was Joe Di Fina. He was a bespectacled, curly-haired, swarthy Sicilian who wore a Rangers uniform and was fairly well skating on his ankles when he first came to Columbia Park from Douglass Street that spring. I had a practice game against him and Johnny De Losa, two on one with open nets, and I scored fifty goals to their dozen or so. Well, over the summer, things changed drastically. Joe learned to skate and became the Douglass Street dynamo. He didn’t have a lot of outstanding skills, but he was more tenacious than anyone I’ve ever seen, amateur or pro. He was like the rover back in the old days; wherever the puck went, there was Joe. I was astonished to find out he had diabetes, like the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke. When you consider how dynamic their comparative styles were, you have to wonder whether those insulin shots had anything to do with it.
Anyway, Joe and I went for beers one night and made plans on how we were going to take down the Red Hook team. Particularly a fellow named Mario, a middle-aged fellow who looked and played like a longshoreman. He was a big burly bastard who had a hardon for Anthony Wilkie and wasn’t overly fond of me for my big mouth. I was certain that he and I would tangle sooner or later but, outside of a missed check he slipped from me in one game, we never crossed paths. Anyway, during our conversation I found that Joe was a nightclub singer, and invited him to practice one night. He did all the old crooning tunes and would have made Manny proud. We lost touch after I quit playing, and I was saddened to hear he died of hepatitis from a soiled needle. He was a great hockey player, a good person and a fine singer, and the world lost him far too soon.
After my hockey days ended (for the time), we were spending lots more time at Chico’s. I recall him buying a case of Budweiser with the Bicentennial colors on the cans. There were fireworks on the streets, and Al and Luvi had their own fireworks going as well. We weren’t jamming as much as I was more engrossed in hockey than music at the time. Soon Louie got bored and headed back to Bay Ridge, and Al and Luvi’s visits grew infrequent.   
Zing came back to the fold at the same time as Louie, and we decided to give it another go as Spoiler VII. Only Louie was realizing his street value as a musician while still going through adolescent angst, amidst which I was being lumped in with the authority figures he was openly rebelling against. Zing, alternately, had channeled me as his new muse and had started a band called the Devil’s Claw, which was a sort of tribute to our Spoiler Iron Claw logo. When he came back, it was as a guitar-playing badass, having traded his bass for a Les Paul and developing a nasty attitude. Apparently they had already discussed what they would and would not take from me this time around, and when stuff began hitting the fan I posted the riot act before practice one evening, giving them immediate notice. Half the reason was growing philosophical differences between Louie and I. The other reason, which I left undisclosed, was that Zing’s playing sounded like shit. The biggest problem was that I had set up a showcase gig at Max’s Kansas City, and there was no way in hell I was going to let it slip away. I considered my alternatives, which now seemed to hang on the Cat.
Luvi and Alma remained good friends, and she and Al but continued to visit to see how we were getting on. He and Luvi were amused by the indictment I left at my apartment when they stopped by that night, but was still surprised when I called him. We had a long chat but he concluded that he was not going to pull this off without Louie. I had no choice but to make the peace with Louie, who believed I had concocted the whole situation in order to switch Al for Zing on rhythm guitar. It wasn’t altogether true, though I knew it was for the better. If only Zing had remained on bass, he may well have helped us go the distance. Unfortunately he followed his heart instead of his head, and we all ended the worse for it.
Having no drummer, we decided to talk Louie Matos into playing our Frankenstein kit for the show. We naively assumed that Max’s, being a premier club, would pay well, and Louie bought the deal. We rented a couple of cabs and hauled everything to Gramercy Park for the big event. As it turned out, there were two other bands and almost no crowd. We were pleased to go on last, which is something I strenuously avoid these days unless it’s a big event. Anyway, we did a great job and I got to meet with Peter Crowley, the club manager, after the show.

Crowley was a friendly guy who liked the act but saw we needed polish as well as a bassist. We discussed Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, who I saw as a competitor as he also had a pro wrestler gimmick. His lead guitarist, Ross “the Boss” Funicello, was also a ringer for Lou Cazucci, down to the haircut, style of dress and playing style. Crowley called Manitoba a tub of lard, which was no surprise as Dick had been involved in a lawsuit against house band front man and transvestite Wayne County. Manitoba was heckling County one night during a show and Wayne hauled off on him with a mic stand, breaking his collarbone. Broke Dick had no choice but to sue for medical expenses. Anyway, Crowley wished us well and paid me off with a whopping ten bucks. I was forced to pocket it to cover some of the cab expense. Explaining it all to Louie Matos must have come as one of the shocks of his life. Needless to say, it was his first and last appearance as a Spoiler.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Albino Alligators?

Oswaldo “Bob” Barbosa was a Puerto Rican albino who Alma had met at the IHB. He sported a big blonde Afro, wore metal glasses like Al’s, and was an intellectual type who turned us on to his favorite pastimes: chess and drugs. Although he was sorely lacking in training on a traditional set (his mastery of the timbales finally manifested itself with the New York Pimps), he was our first drummer and drifted in and out of the lineup on a regular basis. He struck up a relationship with Sonia Martinez and they got married shortly thereafter. They remained the First Couple of the Spoiler Empire until they broke up in ’78. Bob was very congenial but was notoriously stingy and went out of circulation shortly after their sons, Jentry and Andre, were born. When I saw the price of diapers when Benny Rock’s daughter was born, it was easy to understand why. Nevertheless, Bob and I hit it off from the beginning, and I considered him a close personal friend until his untimely death on October 26, 2010 at the age of 57.

Many of our new acquaintances happened to be albinos. It’s a rare condition resulting from miscegenation. Mary Vasquez came back in and joined Alma and Sonia in our new dancing group, the Leatherettes. Bob’s sister Lily eventually came in with us much later as part of the Ducky Boys. There was also Ritchie, a strapping fellow who actually bought a car though he was disqualified from holding a license because of his visual impairment common to albinos. At any rate, our infrastructure was growing and it gave us enough confidence to continue our quest for rock stardom.

Spoiler II was more of a bonding experience than anything. Bob got an apartment in Red Hook on the block where Sonia lived, and it became a new hangout for us. Bob and Al grew very close, though Bob and Sonia recruited Alma and me as maid of honor and best man. Bob was the one who institutionalized chess with us. I had played with Israel a while back, and Al was also familiar with the game. We taught Alma to play and, as my practice dummy, she grew to be a powerful player in time that embarrassed quite a few fellows. Years later, with the Ducky Boys, it was common to come by after practice and see as many as four games in progress in a room full of beer and marijuana smoke.

Our biggest score was at Bob’s sister Lily’s birthday party. They got me off my butt and down to the Barbosas, where the entire clan was there for the occasion. The family was as astonished as those attending our first gig. I was swirling the mic at that show and popped Lily in the head. Nevertheless, they found us quite entertaining and it gave me the encouragement I needed to get back in the swing of things.

Psychologically, I was in dire straits. It took me a couple of decades to sort it all out. Here we have an ex-jock, badly out of shape with thinning hair, an untrained voice and no songwriting experience, creating a history of substance abuse. My parents were undoubtedly shocked at what was going on, and it was reflected in their own alcohol abuse. Of course, I can’t take full credit for this, but I’m sure I did have a lot to do with enabling them. I was also in desperate need of social approval though it seemed I was doing my utmost to alienate people. If Lou Reed was being chronicled as being the biggest bastard in rock, I was determined to be the underground’s top son of a bitch. This wasn’t the best way to make friends and influence people, and it would cost us dearly down the line. Fortunately the inner circle stuck with me through thick and thin, bless them all.

Louie eventually returned to the fold and we decided that we were now Spoiler III. I was hitting a personal low, most likely than not being because I was channeling a man whose own career was spiraling towards self-destruction. Lou Reed had turned into a unisexual speed freak that was becoming an underground laughing stock, as was I. The impact was never as deeply as felt as when I summoned the courage to make a play for Debbie Cantrell.

Debbie was a lovely JAP (*Jewish American Princess) who was part of Lily Snyder’s personal harem of female clerks at ISO. Lily was a bad-tempered drunk who took her husband’s death out on every male person in her environment. My opinion was that she may have well sent the poor soul to an early grave. At any rate, Debbie was well-insulated by Lily and Sharon Mauss, a hirsute Jewess who also ruled the roost among the office hens. I still didn’t have the confidence to move in and make my play, and it wasn’t until she came by and ribbed me about Judy one day that I thought I had a better chance than a snowball in hell with her.

I overheard office gossip to the extent that Debbie was dating a married man, something that I may or may not have been able to talk her out of. At any rate, when he ditched her, she had a nervous breakdown and never came back to ISO. Fortunately for me, I had her address on a Christmas card list (no such thing as privacy issues in 1975!), so I sent word that I wanted to visit. I was overjoyed when she invited me over!

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. I brought over a bottle of Sangria, dressed in one of my Lou Reed costumes, and anyone in a solid state of mind would have realized that this was not going to get me to first base. We had a kitchen-and-garden conversation on the front porch that lasted about fifteen minutes before she said goodbye. I was deeply depressed throughout the holidays, and what I nearly got out of it a rock opera. “The Ballad of Debbie Dimples” was influenced by both Reed’s Berlin as well as a novel I wrote, “Angie and the Jets”, inspired by…yep, you guessed it. Neither were bad pieces of work, but didn’t have the kind of polish required from a psych-twisted twenty-two year old. They slipped through the cracks, but you never know what the future holds. As for Debbie, well, she’s history, and I hope she got the breaks I always thought she deserved. She was one lovely girl.

I remained at Insurance Services Office throughout this time, and the repercussions of my evolution were being felt at my workplace. A black fellow named Oscar Madden came on the scene. He was 6’4” with 18” arms, the biggest I had personally seen at the time (I’d pump mine up to 19” first in SA then again in KC). He was an ex-football player, a bully and loudmouth who lifted weights. He began hanging with Jerome and I, but eventually started getting pushy and even popped me on the arm one time. BT Superstar would have not stood for it, but Dizon slunk off as a lone wolf.

I began smoking dope regular at work and it was beginning to show, but I cared less. Eventually Oscar quit the company and Jerome and I regrouped, though things were no longer the same. Instead of going straight to lunch with him, I’d go off to smoke, then meet him later. Funny thing, Oscar and I kept in touch, and he would come by the house to lift weights once in a while. Once he came by when I was away and began flirting with Alma, who kept house when I was out so we could stay open for the band members. My Mom was in the hallway tidying and she was getting upset as the overture continued. Suddenly there was a cry and she rushed to investigate. As it turned out, both women had to haul a 225-pound barbell off Oscar’s chest as he’d gotten stuck. I never saw him again after that.

I’m not sure what the logic was, but after Louie left again we became Spoiler IV. I think it was a case of us being so irate over Lou’s disappearing acts that we decided to wipe the slate clean each time. Only there was such a discrepancy between what we sounded like with and without him, there wasn’t much of a choice but to let him back in. Especially because he had a new riff or instrumental each time he showed up. He was constantly jamming around and picked up every trick he could learn, and that kid was an extremely fast learner. Sherry Smith, one of his successors, was convinced that he slept with his guitar.

I think part of the reason why I had become such a screw-up was because of the fact that the band was going nowhere, and at that point I had put all my eggs in that one basket (where they would remain until the end of the Ducky Boys). By channeling myself into Lou Reed, maybe it was a way to keep Broadway Turk Superstar from taking the blame for failure. It would eventually take Superstar to get the ship back on course, but the Turk would have to be completely reinvented, and this poor Dizon bastard was hardly in shape to get that done at the time.

Anyway, I was still writing songs, some of which would make the lineup a couple of years later, like “Satan”, and some that would resurface decades later, like “Office Man”. Actually I was in an extremely prolific period but couldn’t get a whole lot going due to Al’s limitations. Still, we churned out almost two sets of new songs but there wasn’t enough musical proficiency to make them work. Bob’s arrhythmic drumming style wasn’t helping matters either. We needed Lou’s lead playing ability, and when he came scratching at the door again, well, it was it was a case of the breadwinner back at the widow’s house.

When Louie resurfaced, we decided to call it Spoiler V. I suppose Spoiler IV had become too much of a running joke. This was another transitional period during which Louie and Al were sharpening their claws on one another and eventually forming a good guitar team overall. They would sit in the practice room and smoke dope, then Lou would entreat Al to play some double leads with him. I told them I had written a song called “War of the Worlds” that could use a motif where the lead guitars would be like two enemy fleets meeting on outer space. They jumped all over it but, at that point in time, it was more like the Spanish Armada coming across Huckleberry Finn’s raft. To his credit, Al would have given him a far better run for his money in three years’ time.

Robert Echevarria was another visually-challenged albino kid who drifted into Alma’s IHB network. He was a real grungy fellow who would remind me a lot of a pudgy Johnny Rotten, replete with matted hair, pasty skin, worn clothing, body odor and green teeth. He showed up just in time for Louie to reappear at the Surrealistic Death, and got recruited as the new Spoiler bassist for Spoiler V. This was the first full band we had since the Verdict, and, as the Lord would have it, a gig opportunity came along at El Bolero.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chasing The Dream?

By the end of ’73 everything suddenly began grinding to a halt. Jerome quit drinking, which somewhat curtailed our fellowship (and should’ve told us how shallow our relationship was). Since our crew had disintegrated, Alma and I remained afloat on a sea of alcohol wondering where we would drift to next. I threw in with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they came pretty close to inculcating me, but it seems that the Holy Ghost kept me from making a full commitment. My personal appearance was beginning to reflect my inner turmoil, and I distinctly recall the poor soul who accompanied the Merceds to the home of their new friends, the Rocks, on Christmas Eve of 1973. I still had long hair and a beard, wearing one of the Jurczaks’ woolen collegiate sweater, my faded purple flowered shirt, the Merceds’ gray patterned bellbottoms, and my worn black-and-silver platform boots. What a mess.

Chico Rock was as bizarre a figure as I was at the time. I had no inkling that he would eventually become one of the most cherished friends of my lifetime. He was slightly over five feet tall and had a strong Filipino accent. As it turned out, he was a veteran of three wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam) with the Rangers and the Green Berets, and earned three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart cluster. He had a steel plate in his head, multiple bullet scars and a big chunk of shrapnel damage to his calf muscle. What really ruined his life, though, was a gang attack on his way home from law school. They nearly killed him, and it made him question the value of what he had risked his life for all those years. Chico was as much a rebel as I was, and in time we ignited a kindred spirit within us.  

            I was in a total state of flux in ’74. I started hanging out with Jerome again on Friday nights and getting drunk with Alma on weekends, but nothing else seemed to be happening. I quit Scorpion Karate and was teaching a class I usurped from some wannabe karate teacher at Strong Place Baptist Church. I came in drunk one night and found grown-up Hector Garcia and Pete Matos in class. We had a fine session but, unfortunately, at class end, our customary free fight turned into a brawl between me and Pete. I nearly broke his rib to get the best of him, and I still regret it to this day.

            Needless to say, I was drifting in a sea of angst with nowhere to go. The Alice Cooper Band had broken up, as had the New York Dolls, and American pop culture was in as bad a state as I was. Movies like Godfather II and Lenny were reminders of how crappy things were. I wasn’t sure of who I was or where I was headed. Yet, God was still watching, and, once again, He allowed my life to be saved by rock and roll.

Louie Cazucci was barely thirteen when Chi Chi Guzman brought him around that Fall of ‘74. He was a tall lanky kid with a pasty face and two of the biggest hands on a kid we’d ever seen (reminding me some time later of the immortal Russian composer Rachmaninoff). He was a guitarist in Bay Ridge who had put out the word that he was looking for a wild man to front his new rock band. Louie came from a dysfunctional family, his Mom a psych patient who had moved in with a hardcore NYPD self-defense instructor named Dick Freeman. Dick gave Louie a tough time and we all saw signs of mental trauma but, back then, people minded their own business in such matters. Unfortunately, Louie saw me as a father figure and I handled it very badly with my own psych problems, resulting in him lumping me in with the rest of the abusive authority figures in his life. Just as with Jeremy Lara over thirty years later, the Lord gave me a great chance to change a younger person’s life and I failed. Sorry Lord, sorry Louie, sorry Jeremy…sorry-ass Turk.

When he propositioned me to sing for him, I jumped into it like a dying man at a desert oasis. Louie brought in Stu Shapiro, a mollycoddled Jewish kid on his block who played bass. Louie had a 30-watt Ampeg and a Frankenstein guitar (made from parts of dead axes, much like our drum sets of days to come). Stu had a quality bass and amp, so it was my turn to ante. I ran out and bought a mic and a 10-watt amp at a downtown variety store, then made a call to Johnny De Losa, who in turn called his friend Al.

Al Catraz was a dorky Cuban kid who was a classmate of Johnny De Losa’s. He wore metal-framed glasses and flashed a beaver-toothed grin, his frizzy brown mane badly in need of a haircut. Like myself, he bore little resemblance to the underground punk rock star he would become five years later. His earliest guitar influences were BB King and Eric Clapton (who would be two of my own thirty years later), and his claim to fame was having played onstage at Bishop Loughlin during a student festival. Over time, there was a competition between Al and Louie that never was resolved. The Spoiler atmosphere was always a problem as well in that it was both musical and macho. One had to be both talented and tough to build status, and sometimes, as in that case of Zing, attitude could be better than aptitude. Al finally achieved his status, but it was as a Ducky Boy five years later. What he did have at the time was a 100-watt amp and a Les Paul guitar, which gave him permanent resident status as a Spoiler.

As always, my delusions of grandeur would know no limits. Dreams of stardom filled my head and I invited Baron Sanders along with my parents down for an open session, which greatly impressed them considering there was no inkling that such a thing as a band would have ever existed beforehand. I wasted no time in heading out to our old drinking spot, the Verdict, and talked the manager into letting us play at their Christmas party. That turned out to be the biggest train wreck in my life at the time.

We got there and enthusiastically set up, with all our parents (except Al’s, who didn’t drink) en route for the second set. What I failed to notice at the outset was that the place was actually a cop bar with plenty of off-duty detectives in attendance. Naturally, being the naïve oaf I was at the time, I went into my Lou Reed act straight out of Rock and Roll Animal (still my fave guitar album of all time) and, of course, “Heroin”, with the mock shoot-up and all. Only I had accumulated the actual works to make it more realistic. In this day and age, the cops would have probably taken me down for possession of drug paraphernalia, but back then, we simply had our plug pulled.

Of course, when our folks got there, Mary, the manager, had no choice but to let us resume. Yours truly, being as pigheaded as Day One, decided to start the show from scratch (which, to my credit, I would never do again). This time, it was outraged parents who yanked us off, first Stu Shapiro then Johnny De Losa. Having no bassist was a non-issue; no drummer was something neither Lou, Al or I anticipated. With Broadway Turk Superstar in hibernation, the neophyte Dizon character broke into tears, folded his tent and slunk off into the night.

Louie’s mom Ruth was there, and I recall her being quite the card at the show. As I mentioned, she had a hard life but refused to surrender, like the rest of us. She was an attractive woman and, believe it or not, we had a liking for each other. It never went anywhere since, for one, I wasn’t as confident with the ladies as I pretended to be until much later in life. Secondly, if Dick Freeman had caught on, he might’ve made life far more complicated for me than it already was. Still, we were always on great terms and we had our share of intimate conversations. I will always have a soft spot in my heart and fond memories of that lovely and lively woman.

At any rate, I fired Stu and Johnny, after which Louie went AWOL, leaving Al, Alma and I wondering what to do next. Alma stepped up to the plate, as she would so many times over the years, and brought in some connections from her school days as well as her time at the IHB (Industrial House for the Blind, which catered to the visually-impaired). All at once, we found ourselves surrounded by a cast of new and unusual recruits.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Judy In Disguise?

Brushing myself off from that skirmish, I set out on a spiritual quest for truth, comparing different doctrines and even breaking bread (or shredded coconut) with the Hare Krishnas on Kane Street to learn more about the different manifestations of God across the earth. I even listened to some post-Beatles music from its ex-members to pick up something from their own spiritual quests. All I found was the alchemy of the Devil as he creates gold from garbage, to which it soon returns. I could still not find a Church home, but knew that as long as I stayed loyal to Christ as a soldier of God, everything would work together to His glory. In time, it most certainly did.

After that unforgettable summer of ‘73, I made a commitment to Scorpion Karate which laid the foundation for future events to come. Lea was dating one of the instructors at the club, John Pineda, who invited me by to work out a few times. With the lull in the action within the clique, I decided to give it a decent go this time. I saw myself as the John Saxon character in Enter the Dragon, even though the self-styled Creator, Alfonso Rivera, nicknamed me the Wrestler. I took to wearing my judo gi from Loughlin which was far more durable than my new karate jacket and much warmer throughout the Brooklyn winter.

My previous karate experience was entirely visual, coming from the kung-fu movies that were all the rage at the time. I remember throwing a kick at Mingo one time and he dumped me right on my ass! I also had a sparring match with one of the kids at the club shortly after joining, and he pulled up short of kicking my teeth down my throat. I had a long way to go, but I was a quick learner and made up ground in a short time. It got to the point where I was roughing up everyone in the club up to brown belt level. After I got jobbed out of a first-place trophy at a local tournament, I lost interest and began running classes of my own in my backyard and up at Strong Place Church. I got a yellow belt out of it, but would not progress until earning two brown belts over three decades later.

The clique was still styling and profiling in the ‘hood, and I was drifting away from my athletic pursuits once again until I found a good reason to keep myself in good shape. It came in the form of a beautiful blonde who would keep my rep as a ladies’ man (in the footsteps of my dad and Granddad before me) alive and well for time to come.

Judy Emmick was a lovely blonde from Connecticut whose ideal romance with the high-school soccer star was wrecked along with his car in a driving accident. Our chit-chat during business calls from ISO to Hartford Insurance led to personal mail that resulted in a couple of weekend trysts between us. People were astonished that I had been able to set up such a deal over the phone with such a beautiful woman, and, sadly enough, so was I. It was another sad example of me not believing in myself; elsewise, there would have been plenty more where she came from. I seemed to have been so afraid of failing in the forest that I did not focus on the individual trees. At any rate, Judy and I had a memorable time together before I bitterly realized that our ships would never continue in the same direction. She came from a different world, and her family and friends in Hartford would never accept a karate-fighting wiseguy wannabe, which is where I was at that point of time.

Unfortunately I was still caught between a rock and a hard place trying to reinvent myself. I continued to draw inspiration from the underworld bullies that captured my imagination (along with that of dozens of other would-be tough guys in the ‘hood), as well as the movie board-breakers who were all the rage in that day. Since I wasn’t about to risk my future carrying a gun around in NYC, I relied on a big 007 blade along with my martial arts tactics. Of course, none of this would help me realize any of my life ambitions, but I clung to what I had nonetheless.

Around this time I was studying my reflection in a subway train window and I was shocked to see signs of male pattern baldness. For someone with my fragile ego and sense of esthetics, it was a tragic situation, but suicide was not an option. It took Neysa Flores to help me deal with it thirty years later, but until then I spent my entire adult life violently protecting and defending my ‘condition’. In turn, it was all about Vitalis hair spray in public, BT’s Spitfire cap and Superstar’s black mask under the spotlight. If only a Neysa had come along and got me to shave it all off. Well, pride goeth before a fall, and only the Lord knows how many times I’ve fallen on bad hair days.

Looking back, it seems as if cutting my ties to Judy and coming to grips with my receding hairline brought me to a low point in time. Mind you, I had no serious plans for Judy, but having her out of the picture brought my romantic prospects back to ground zero. I was also faced with the possibility that I might not be as attractive or able to seek out partners as lovely as her (or better) in future. My hair did quite a bit to enhance my looks, and even in my forties I was still what the women considered ruggedly handsome. You could not have sold that notion to a kid in his early twenties, however, and I did not see my situation getting better any time soon.

With nothing but ISO and a martial arts degree in my immediate future, there was no doubt that I had to make something happen. Nonetheless, it seemed as if prospects were vanishing faster than looming on the horizon, and I knew I would have to make something happened soon if I were to amount to anything more than a senior rate clerk in the Special Rating Unit. 1973 was flashing before my eyes, and it looked like things were going to hell in a handbasket.

Little did I know that my hopes would soon be on the Rocks, as you shall see.

(To be continued...)

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Truth Shall Set You Free?

Going back to the Summer of ’72, it was an idyllic time with the Cat Pack, which was Georgie, Alma, Mingo and Jerome Browne, along with assorted guest stars which included future Leatherettes Sonia Martinez and Mary Vasquez, as well as Ramon Merced and Marvin “Mad Dog” Brown. The reason I call it the Cat Pack is because we spent most of our time lazing about bars and lounges, spending lots of money to be pampered by bartenders and barflies. We had lots of good times, but there was one more member that truly made it a summer to  remember.

Around that time, Alma’s aunt came up from Puerto Rico, and for a time she was my main squeeze. Carmen was a widow who happened to be the youngest sister of Nery, Mingo and the rest of the Alindato clan. She must’ve been in her late thirties when she came to visit the Merceds, and it was a summer I would never forget. She was another woman with the lovely face and hourglass figure I kept coming across, but she was reluctant to get involved with such a younger guy (they would’ve called her a cougar by today’s standards). She made my blood race but, as a young dumbass, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. We messed around with one another but I blew every opportunity until she returned to PR, never to return. Over a decade later she was bitten by a poisonous insect and had her arm amputated, after which she died of a broken heart. It was a terrible tragedy and I only hope she was right with the Lord when she left us.                    

We caroused everywhere, from Flatbush Avenue (Jerome’s turf) to Hobnails in Bay Ridge (where Sue Swingle from ISO hung out), Brooklyn Heights to Red Hook, and Wall Street to Greenwich Village. We spent money like no tomorrow and closed countless bars after 4 AM. We still had Mary Vasquez, a cute albino girl who would later (along with Alma and Sonia) become one of the original Leatherettes, and Marvin “Mad Dog” Brown, a lowbrow Jewish fellow who was one of the supervisors at ISO. He had an exaggerated duckfooted walk, perpetually toked his cherry pipe, and had a knack for tossing off outrageous one-line insults and remarks as quick as I did. All in all, we were quite the motley crew, and sadly enough, it was all too good to last.

After Carmen left for Puerto Rico, Georgie discovered marijuana and slowly began drifting towards that kind of crowd. He started missing work and quit helping with the bills, and after one hiatus he returned days later to find his bags neatly packed for him. We remained friends but eventually he went back to PR and was never seen again. The rest of us remained weekend warriors but we weren’t as far and widespread as we had been with Georgie and his jalopy.

Unfortunately I would see the same psychological scarring that Kenny displayed a couple of years later when we crossed paths. Georgie was remote and had little allegiance to anyone or anything. He probably was as close to me as anyone else he knew, and I think that said a lot. I did everything I could to help him fit in, but sometimes those neuroses are so ingrained over time that nothing makes a dent. He put up a wall and would let no one in, plain and simple.

He left on a real sour note when I found that he and the boyfriend of the previous occupant of my apartment broke into the top floor apartment rented by Carlos and Tita Franchesci. They were an attractive couple who I really liked, though Carlos had a rep for running around on Tita. She was a sexy redhead built like a brick outhouse. He had made a few remarks about her putting on too much weight, but for the life of me I never saw a problem. I fantasized about her for years but never did more than interrupt her pre-shower time by bringing up her mail when she came home from work. Plus, I liked Carlos a lot, and it really pissed me off when I found out what Georgie did. Still, I always thought of Georgie as a brother and forever will.

It was around that time that I came to a major religious crossroads in my life that would leave its scars but eventually lead to one of the most profound spiritual epiphanies of my life. I began studying with a Jehovah’s Witness named Carlos (yep, another one), and he was one of the meekest men I’ve ever met though ablaze with fervor for the sect. Alma began studying with us and he brought us in about as deep as one can go without making a commitment. He was painstaking in his research, as was the entire Watchtower organization, whose world headquarters is in Brooklyn Heights alongside Suicide Hill. That was our name for a very steep downhill block along Hicks Street leading to a highway underpass, which the only most reckless cyclists would dare to attempt. At any rate, we were deep in Witness territory and barely managed to escape.

They were the ones who first exposed the Roman Church to me as the prophetic Babylon of the Apocalypse. They saw themselves as the One True Church, and even considered all Protestant religions as Christendom. They explained how all the Christian holidays had pagan connections as designed by the Vatican, and painstakingly proved it so that Alma and I stopped celebrating them entirely. It wasn’t until my first marriage, over twenty years later, before I celebrated another Christmas. We were sinking in as if in quicksand, and the only thing that kept us from being submerged was my absolute faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

You see, the Witnesses believe in Jesus as ‘a’ son of God as opposed to THE Son of God. They are strict monotheists who recognize no doctrine proving a Blessed Trinity. Their Douay-like Bible spells the Holy Ghost in small letters, denying there is such a Person, seeing Him only as God’s ‘active force’. This was causing major discord in my soul, and Carlos decided to write out a ten-page discourse showing how, chapter and verse, Jesus was not God and there was no Holy Ghost person.

It was the Holy Ghost Himself who refused to let that happen. He yanked my heart strings so violently that I felt as if I was denying God Almighty, which, in fact, I would have been. Try as he might, Carlos could not dissuade me from believing in the Deity of Christ, and I told him so before we finally parted ways. When I made my declaration, I was overcome by a wave of Holy Ghost power that fully assured me I had made the right choice.

It was no coincidence that the Witnesses were at the pinnacle of their influence around the world. They had some hardcore ministers who were at the top of their game, taking the planet by storm, and their sect was growing by leaps and bounds. My suspicion was that many more Christians besides myself were being taken to the arena worldwide, and the Holy Ghost acted mightily to cut through the darkness with the Sword of Truth, which is the Word of God. They began peaking by the end of the decade, and by the time I rededicated myself to the ministry in the 90’s, they were just another sect of eccentrics.

One thing I can pass on to Christians struggling with their faith: the Truth will always prevail in making itself known. Believers should never avoid debate, discourse or false doctrine in asserting the veracity of the Word of God. Regardless of how impeachable evidence appears to the contrary, the Truth will always win out. The fact of the matter is that the Bible (in its most authentic King James version) is absolute Truth, and if one part of it is false, then the entire document collapses. This is why so many books were edited out of the Scripture when the Holy Ghost directed the compilation under King James. Scholars from around the world were brought together to research and compare every Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek document known to man in order to piece together the unbroken and perfect Word of God. It is the complete Old Testament of the Hebrews, preserved over six thousand years, together with the New Testament of the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul and the writings of the Apostles. It is a perfect Book with no inconsistencies, and any and all that contradict it have been long since discarded. With such a weapon in one’s arsenal, how can one ever fail in battle against the dark side?

(To be continued...)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Better Half?

I took a couple of plane trips around this time, the first to visit my Grandpa in 1972 and then to visit my Aunt Marge in 1973. Visiting Teodulfo Dizon was quite an experience. He was still a strict, disciplined man though the years had mellowed him quite a bit. Matter of fact, I found him to resemble the Koreans I would meet three decades later in their characteristic inscrutability. Though he had left the Orient over sixty years ago, he still maintained its ways and style, as if clinging to the environment in which he was born and raised. It was also due to the military tradition in which he was steeped, from his childhood as a military brat to his time in American bases from San Pedro to Fort Sam Houston. Though he was a slender man weighing about 135, he was hard as a rock and had never missed a day of work in over fifty years.                          

It was a whirlwind week for me and I wish I had the maturity to have savored more time with him. I went out a few times with my cousin Linda, who had played roller derby in a local team before retiring due to a knee injury. She took me to a downtown gay bar (which were the height of fashion in the glitter rock era) and we drank it up with some of the best-known drag queens in town. I met my cousin Johnny, who Grandpa warned me about, but we hit it off and went out for an evening of pool and had a great time. I also went carousing with my cousin Lupe, who invited me to an after-work party that Friday and then to some local downtown spots. I would have never dreamed that I would relocate to San Antonio a decade later, and that Johnny, Lupe and I would become as the Three Musketeers as I built my new infrastructure.

Grandpa would eventually write down his memoirs in a short essay, which would become the foundation for my semi-biographical novel, Generations (as yet unpublished). He told me quite a bit about his life in San Pedro and confided in me in a manner that would have made the Four Brothers jealous. I wish I would have realized at the time that he was pouring his heart out to me in hoping I would be the keeper of his memory, which I certainly hope I am. I remember him cooking a delightful shrimp and rice entrée for dinner one evening, and can’t remember him serving up anything I didn’t like. That was a big difference from my first visit to SA as a weeun, as he and Mom got into a row over him trying to make me eat my first bowl of oatmeal!

I also found out he was a big wrestling fan. Unfortunately, he naturally cheered for the babyfaces, while I was overjoyed to see the Golden Greek, John Tolos on the tube as he tore up some jobber in short order. I imagine what he would have thought in watching his grandson as Broadway Turk Superstar using everything from chairs to ashtrays on opponents in the Texas Wrestling Association almost two decades later. Actually, he never saw one of Manny’s fights, most likely because he wouldn’t have been able to bear it. Grandma Stella, on the other hand, went to most of them.

His big thing was still poker, and on my last night he brought me to his friend’s home for their big weekly game. Linda and her friends had planned a big sendoff for me but there was no way I could refuse Grandpa. It was a penny-ante game and I got thoroughly shellacked. I’m a pretty good poker player, but in those games, they were calling almost a dozen wild cards per hand which reduced it to a game of chance rather than skill. This took away my bluffing game, which both Grandpa and our revered family friend Baron Sanders disdained. Grandpa never bluffed; Manny called Baron on a bluff one time and Baron’s face grew beet-red with embarrassment! At any rate, Broadway Turk wouldn’t make much of an impact as a poker player on that particular sojourn.

I found out just how ornery he was on the ride to the airport. We stopped off at a department store and I saw a hat similar to his fedora and wanted to buy it for him. He declined, but I insisted, and I was going to pick it out when he caught my wrist in his version of the Iron Claw. It was either twist free or relinquish, and my Grandpa won out. I should have mailed him one afterward, but, that’s a stupid kid for you. At any rate, it was one of the most cherished visits of my life. I wish the one a couple of years later with Manny had been more pleasant, but that was when worlds collided and the generation gap appeared as an earthquake in our relationship.

That next year I visited my Aunt Marge, and my relationship with the Sanders clan was on the decline soon afterwards though I wouldn’t realize it until years later. She considered herself the leader of the clan though my cousin Brooks’ wife Gloria confided in me that she feared her older sister Brooks (no misprint, quite a popular family name). She was initially pleased as punch to meet me again after over a decade, and I hit it off famously with her husband Vernon. I also got on well with Brooks and his family, and we were scheduled for a family get-together at his property on Lake Dallas. He had made his fortune in the construction business and was the clan’s only legitimate millionaire before going bankrupt in the 90’s.

Manny nearly gagged when I turned down a proposal from Brooks to join his firm as a representative with his South American field office during a visit with us at the Waldorf-Astoria a couple of years earlier. Of course, my head was full of fantasies of NHL or wrestling stardom, and I thought the world was an oyster before me. What I never understood was why Manny didn’t jump in as quickly as he did with the writing school rep a couple of years before that. He could have told Brooks that we needed time to reconsider, and even shipped my ass out with parental authority. Well, that was Manny for you. Brooks never reached out again, even when I was desperate for help with Mom at my side and my Year Zero EP in hand during our reunion visit in 1979.  

My fatal error came one afternoon after a long talk the previous evening in which I told her of recent family hassles due to my mother’s drinking problem. We planned lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, leaving me to my lonesome as she went to have her hair done. I sucked up a half-case while listening to the Velvet Underground on her room-to-room stereo, writing a ballad called “Patti” about kidnapped newspaper heiress Patti Hearst (which had long since been misplaced and forgotten). When she finally got back I could barely read it back to her. She probably thought me quite the hypocrite, but should have seen the underlying problems. Yet I think it was more of a question of trying to stuff the skeletons back into the family closet.

The problem with the nouveau riche is that they think their crap don’t stink when, actually, what they fear and despise most about others is what they see deep inside themselves. That holds true for most people as I found through my psychiatric studies. This is why they marginalized my Uncle Vernon, a fine man who overcame his drinking problem. They kept him forever in the background at our reunions, and I spent most of my time there with him. Not the best way to score brownies with the Sanders clan.

Payback time came in 1985 at the Hyatts’ wedding which was hosted at the Abbotts’ home in Fort Worth. I drove up with Debbie Von and we saw my parents emerging from a vehicle in front of the house just as they arrived from the airport. As it turned out, Mom was three sheets to the wind, Manny chalking it up to her fear of flying. This, of course, I discredited as a crock of shit as Mom had been an amateur pilot who had earned her wings in flight school back in the 40’s. She ranted and raved throughout the short evening as I did my best to refrain from laughing my ass off as Aunt Marge somehow maintained her composure.

There were a couple more reunions after that, a last hurrah at Lake Dallas in 1979 and a mini-reunion at the Hyatts in Cloudcroft in 1992. I was definitely the black sheep at Lake Dallas though they seemed more comfortable with the stylish wiseguy in the business suit in Cloudcroft. I drove up to Fort Worth with Bobby Bulldozer for Uncle Vernon’s funeral in 1992 a couple of months before the Hyatt reunion, and would have shown for Aunt Marge’s funeral a few years later if Lea Shithead had taken the time to notify me. We were on the outs by then after a spat between Duane and me at my first wedding in 1995, but I think it was more of a case of her wanting to sabotage my connection with the Sanders clan worse than it already was.

Money was always a case of sour grapes with her. She was never a hoarder or a tightwad, but she always loved being around those who had money, and wasn’t overly happy when her peers had more than she did. That was the main reason she stayed close to Brooks Abbott. His wife Gloria was a lovely woman and a great person but was highly suspicious of males in the clan, some of whom had come on to her more than a couple of times. Their son Clay was a great little kid but I suspect he went the way of Thumper Hyatt as he matured. I know that Brooks worshipped the kid and most likely brought him into the business, which bankrupted a few years later. Geez, I wonder why. At any rate, Brooks even had the Shitheads out to his resort home in Lake Tahoe a few times before he went under. I’ll bet they didn’t do much visiting after he lost everything.

(To be continued...)