Saturday, December 21, 2013

Manny and the Mob?

Manny was always hobnobbing with Mob guys, all because of his rep as a 50’s boxing star. Mimi London, a capo with the Colombo Family, gave me a red-marked silver dollar as a child, which I was to return after my eighteenth birthday. Unfortunately, one of Lea Shithead’s druggie friends robbed Manny’s and snatched the coin, so there went my chances to join the Mob. Another big name was Toddo Marino, who owned a restaurant in Bay Ridge and loved having Manny and his friends from the Veteran Boxers’ Association come by. I didn’t think much of it until he was shown on the Gambino family tree in the HBO movie, Gotti, during the 90’s. Two others who would be seen around the Mafia bar, Angelo’s, where my parents hung out on Court Street were Crazy Joe Gallo and Tony Anastasia, the kid brother of the Mad Hatter, Gambino overlord Albert Anastasia. Talk about a lively neighborhood!

Years later, after Crazy Joe was assassinated outside of Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy in Manhattan, they came out with a movie of the same name that rekindled my fascination with the Mob. Jerome Browne and I decided to wander down President Street while making our rounds carousing one Friday night after work. We took in the sights sometime around midnight, deep in Gallo territory near Columbia Street. We didn’t see any gang activity, Mafia or otherwise. What was most noticeable was an enormous searchlight (the kind you see in prison movies) perched atop one of the tenement roofs, its beam aimed discreetly out into space until needed. It remained as a testament to the vicious Colombo drive-bys that occurred during their internecine gang wars of the 60’s.

I never had any real aspirations to get connected, though I did play the role more than a few times in my life. The reason was that the three types of people who get the most respect in public, even more than businessmen, politicians or actors, are wiseguys, pro wrestlers and rock stars. It’s not the reason why I got into rock or wrestling, but it may help explain why I gravitated towards those industries. Plain and simple, those kinds of people are larger than life, and most of the time, take big risks to get where they are. Some dedicate their whole lives to those vocations, like yours truly. I would never have sworn myself over to a criminal life, but I’ve never gotten upset by anyone mistaking me for that type.

At any rate, I had no idea how quickly my early sports career would flash before my eyes. Most of it was due to the fact there were no organized sports teams in the area, and I was turning into the proverbial kingfish in the goldfish pond. There were only a couple of high school football teams back then, and at 5’9”, 147 pounds, I didn’t stand a chance even if I’d gotten a shot. There was no hockey whatsoever, and Bishop Loughlin discontinued its roller hockey program right at the time I had mastered the game. Neither were there any wrestling or martial arts programs other than the judo team, which didn’t hold my interest me at the time. Sadly, the doors kept closing in my face in the sports world, and it wasn’t until I reached my thirties until the opportunities began appearing.

Another problem was the lack of competition, even in the neighborhood, after the Yodels left. I was getting stronger and faster, and the other kids either couldn’t keep up or had put sports well behind them as their lives moved into the fast lane of sex and drugs. Things were slowing down athletically and I began spending more time by myself, reading and working on my manuscripts. Actually it was a point in time where I began developing my writing skills, leading to a lifelong writing career which produced this book and four others before it. Outside of my musical endeavors, I would consider this my most positive contribution to our American society and culture.

During the hiatus, I began hanging out again with Mark, who introduced me to his new neighbor Louie and his brothers. The Matos Family moved into 263 Court Street upstairs from Mark, and they began to have a three-dimensional impact on my life. Anibal (“Papo”) was the oldest, a studious introspective type who had a romance with Lea that inspired our friendship. Funnily enough, it was her latino romances that led to a number of strong friendships that also gave me insight into the Puerto Rican community and lifestyle. The middle brother, Luis (“Afro”), was the real Latin lover of the family and grew to be one of my biggest rivals on Butler Street. He threw in with Kenny Reyes, and I have a strong feeling that Kenny had a lot to do with the rivalry. The youngest brother, Peter, was a peripheral figure due to his age but fooled around for a short while with our street hockey scrimmages and even played a couple of football games with the Jets. Upon reaching adulthood, he turned into a capable fighter who forced me into my bag of tricks to come up with a martial arts win against him years later.

Kenny Reyes’ social development was, in retrospect, quite an interesting study. He began embracing the Latino lifestyle and built his own little counterculture along the periphery of my budding sports clique. He began working in Manhattan and was soon able to afford the best in Latino finery: knit shirts, plaid pants and highly-buffed, pointy-toed shoes. Luis’ Dad was an amateur salsa musician who let the boys fool with his percussion instruments, and soon they became the only band on the block before the advent of the Spoiler Empire. Kenny grew to be a heavyweight, and taking him on physically was generally considered a suicidal notion. Yet there was a lot of insecurity about him, as with most bullies. Besides having no education in having ditched school, he was also beleaguered by premature hair loss that got to him about the same time as Lea Shithead. I myself would be fighting the same battle just a few years later.

(To Be Continued...)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Broadway Joe and Derek the Turk?

It was another Manny-centric moment that turned hockey into one of the great loves of my life. He refused to let me watch wrestling one Saturday in the Spring of ’68, and Mom told me I could have the TV after his ball game ended. Crestfallen and spiteful, I switched on Channel 9 regardless and sat sulking as the New York Rangers game commenced. As time elapsed, I found myself mesmerized by the quick skating, the intricate plays, the hard hitting and the booming puck that dominated the game. I began asking Manny so many questions that he bought me a book on ice hockey which I kept all the way until Lea and her daughter Tasha threw out or sold all my books on Butler Street in 2009.

I idolized the New York Rangers from the very beginning. They got kicked out of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in four straight games but it didn’t stop me from doing my homework over the next three months of summer before next season. I went up to Madison Square Garden and bought a Rangers puck and a yearbook which became lifelong treasures that were also lost during the Hyatts’ spring cleaning of 2009. After that I began going to Gramercy Park, which was closer, and became a regular customer all the way until my last days of street hockey in NYC around 1976, nearly seven years later.

Even though I was a diehard Ranger fan, I could not help but admire the Boston Bruins after a time. The Big Bad Bruins were the terror of the league, a reputation they would carry until the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers, began taking it to them a few years later. The problem with the Rangers was that they couldn’t back themselves up. They had a couple of tough guys who didn’t take shit, but not enough of them. Not only that, but top-scoring center Jean Ratelle and All-Star defenseman Brad Park just weren’t in the same league as Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

The one fellow that no one had a match for was Derek “Turk” Sanderson. He was a bad-ass street punk from Canada whose reputation as a fighter overshadowed his skill as a center, one of the best face-off men in the game. He was the fashion plate of the NHL and hung out with my football hero, Broadway Joe Namath. I was like every other fan in NYC wishing him a slow death in the late 60’s, but in time both he and Namath became the role models that gave birth to Broadway Turk Superstar.

It didn’t take me long to start my own hockey team, the Butler Street Blues. I spray-painted a rink between manhole covers and even fashioned a St. Louis Blues-like logo at mid-field. Harold and Paul Yodels were the mainstays, and we also had puny Johnny De Losa on defense, who would play a role in the formation of the Spoiler almost seven years later. We played street hockey until the dog days of Summer ’68, then took a break until that fall to resume operations. During that time, Harold became a much better player and actually beat me for the scoring championship and team record in ‘69, exceeding my spring total by one goal! I recounted my stat book dozens of times to reach the same sorry conclusion.   

When it got too hot to play, we sat around on the steps of homes in the neighborhood sipping sodas and ribbing one another. Paulie was one of my main stooges, and he, in turn lorded it over Danny O’Connor, the dreaded O’Connors’ younger brother, and Richie Aceto, who would become one of Osama Bin Laden’s victims in the World Trade Center over thirty years later. The age difference was too great between us, and I began spending less and less time with the stooges as the summer crept along.

Paulie was the last of the Yodels that I had a good friendship with. He was about Lea’s age and loved playing my homemade board games. He was always the brunt of my ribs and took it out on the kids his age, as I mentioned. I never fully realized that he had probably the most explosive temper of all the Yodels, and my ribbing really took a toll on him. Nevertheless, he became the goalie for the Blues and did a pretty good job in net for us. After the Yodels moved away, he came to visit one last time but apparently he had outgrown his tolerance for my ribbing, and I never saw him again. I heard he went on to a good job as a sky marshal and grew into a two-fisted, pistol-packing son of a gun.                
One claim to fame that Harold and Paul would have was during Harry’s brief stint as a club owner in Queens. They bought a club on the Gambino Mob’s turf during the reign of John Gotti, who had a couple of the boys stop in to shake down the Yodels. Paulie took exception to that and got a bit of a hiding from the Gottis. I’m sure Paul has put it behind him by now, but I must admit I’m proud to know that one of my old friends stood up to the bastards.
(To be continued...)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

BSWC Begins?

Eventually Mom bought a weight set, a tarpaulin, four 4x4 posts and some clothesline during the winter of ‘67, and we went about constructing the trappings of the Butler Street Wrestling Club. Georgie, the psychologically stronger yet younger brother, was out chasing girls while Kenny and I plotted to usurp his position as BSWC champion. When John and Harold Yodels helped form our new clique, George was on his way to Puerto Rico around the Summer of ’67 and the rest of us were left to determine a new champ. By this time, Kenny was following George’s lead as neighborhood Romeo and was reluctant to test himself against John on a mat-covered dirt floor. John and Harold mauled each other for almost an hour on our debut card before Harold conceded the bout, and John became the new champ.

The next show was a baptism of fire from which I took my first step on the road to wrestling superstardom. We managed to sell tickets at five cents apiece, and who should end up in the front row of wooden chairs but my old pals, the Colander brothers! The main event was scheduled to be John vs. Kenny for the championship, but Kenny volunteered to act as referee for my match with Harold. After Harold mauled me for the better part of an hour to no avail, Kenny called the match a draw and declined to participate any further.

The match with Harold was a major turning point of my wrestling career. It consisted of him trying to hit me with a knee thrust and slam my head into a ringpost, drawing a warning from Manny that the show was over if that were to happen. I managed only one takedown during the bout, and we were broken up as Harold easily made the ropes in the miniscule ring. It was the most humiliating experience of my career at that point, topped off by the heckling of the Colanders throughout. Harold was surprisingly humble after the match though letting everyone know later that he had the upper hand. I decided then and there that the pecking order would soon change.

My friendship with the Yodels was predicated on the rivalry between John and Harold. They would use me as leverage against one another, and when one made peace with me the other would turn on me. After the match with Harold, he joined forces with Kenny against John and I. It was all badmouth, talking trash against one another, mostly a competition between John and Kenny. During this time, I really began learning how to wrestle as John and I spent most of our time tussling wherever we could.

He delighted in the fact that I was developing the strength and skill to compete with him, even though he outweighed me by over fifty pounds. I was learning to copy holds from the pros and could now employ leg takedowns and armlocks to gain ground position over him. I was also channeling off the Sheik, the legendary Detroit kingpin who recently came to the WWF to challenge Bruno Sammartino. When John would ambush me on the street, I would try and bounce his head off every surface nearby. By this time he and Harold made the peace and the three of us reunited. I was beyond the point where Harold could bully me anymore, though he tried at every opportunity.

By 1968, I had come out of my shell, and John and I had a reputation for being rowdies upon graduation. Unfortunately, his family problems combined with teenage angst to cause major changes in his personality, and he started seeing me as a major rival in his plans to rule Butler Street in the void left by the Butler Aces. It was like a constant triple threat match between John, Harold and I, and soon John formed alliances with the borderline delinquents in the neighborhood to move along the pecking order. I stuck to my sports fantasies and it put me on the road to one of my biggest personal achievements: nearly twenty years later, Broadway Turk Superstar would make his pro wrestling debut.

            As with all adolescents, my life began taking some major twists and turns after graduating 8th grade and leaving St. Paul’s School for Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. I never dreamed that, in a short space of two years, my circle of friends would change completely, my personal image would undergo a series of dramatic overhauls, and even my religious life would be transformed. 

(To be continued...)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sibling Rivalry - The Beginning?

I was still fascinated by pro wrestling, and my dream was to be a wrestler one day. At first my Mom tried to talk me out of it, telling me that her family in Texas saw wrestling as some kind of carnival freak show. My rebuttal was that Manny had been a boxer, and she left it at that because, indeed, she and Manny and her family had fought along that road before. I sold the idea to Kenny and Georgie, who were always fighting anyway, and we declared the Butler Street Wrestling Club. Georgie, who always got the best of Kenny, was the champ, Kenny was the top contender, and  I was Number Three. Poor Mark Roman ended up the bottom man. Jesus, Mickey Reyes and the Orlando Brothers didn’t even rank, they were declared midgets!  Of course, when the Yodels came along, things changed dramatically. Until then, I enjoyed my spot behind the fearsome Reyes brothers.

Historically, the first BSWC champion was…my Mom! She had been tussling with me since I was a weeun and somehow or other Kenny and Georgie got in on the act, and at that point of time she was literally scrubbing the floor with us. Only her drinking and our maturing eventually brought those days to an end. One night she had been on the sauce and we were scuffling, and to her chagrin, I got the best of her! I was elated that I had reached such a pinnacle but made nothing of it. She, however, harbored resentment that smoldered until that Christmas holiday.

Manny used to paint the windows with Christmas displays every year (a tradition Lea continued to the next generation), and one night she was sipping and brooding in the front window, well-hidden from view. I was in front of the house amidst a ruckus with Georgie and called him a bastard at the top of my lungs as he trotted off. My Mom saw the opportunity to call me inside and throw me a solid beating with her fisticuffs. I squirted a few tears to placate her but contemplated the unreasonable severity of the attack for years later. It took me a few decades to realize it was all about having bested her at wrestling, and she just needed to reestablish her physical dominance over her upstart son.

The first piledriver I ever gave out was to my sister. Mom had bought me a couple of flimsy exercise mats when I told her I wanted to put a wrestling set-up together. Actually I don’t think it was her choice, it was just we were both clueless. Anyway, I was anxious to put them to use and invited Lea to the vacant apartment downstairs (that I would rent years later) where I would teach her to wrestle. Determined to find out how well the padding worked, I announced that the first maneuver we would practice was the piledriver. Well, I executed it perfectly (as described in a Wrestling World article on Killer Buddy Austin), then stepped back to evaluate the results of the experiment (after a loud bang resulting from her head hitting the floor). She was motionless for a few tense moments, then slowly arose to a seated position like the Undertaker. I anxiously asked if she was okay (fearing certain comeuppance from Mom), then graciously excused her from the rest of the class.

My sister and I would have a weird relationship until our final split in 2004. During her pre-pubescence she became the neighborhood flirt, largely because of the lack of male affection in the family (Manny later confessed in his senior years that he was always fearful of someone accusing him of abuse). I ratted her out at every opportunity, mostly because she was doing her thing down around Smith Street with blacks and latinos. It wasn’t until she hit her teens that I was able to tolerate her life choices, and by the time she left NYC to attend the University of New Mexico at Portales, we had become close. We had our ups and downs after she got married, but I never anticipated the Butler Street Screw Job of 2004 which I’ll go into later.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bringing Up Father?

Manny joined the Veteran Boxers’ Association a couple of years later, and that was another memorable experience. The president of their chapter was Paul Berlenbach, who has his place in history as one of the only athletes to hold amateur titles in both boxing and wrestling. He was the sports idol of one of the heirs to the Ruppert brewing company fortune, which set him up with a trust fund for his lifetime. He even named his toy bulldog Ruppert!  Paul was kind of punchy by that time, but was a kind man who treated us like gold and loved Manny. The VBA also held annual dances, which were like stepping into a time capsule back to the early 20th century. Everyone dressed formal and they played ballroom dance music all night. There were also unlimited supplies of beer kegs, which I greatly enjoyed. Manny was their emcee as well, and people lined up to compliment him after he delivered his speeches.

            Every now and again they sponsored amateur fights, and the rookies marveled at being able to hobnob with the legends of yesteryear. They would ask Manny to referee a fight now and again, and he enjoyed it as much as we did. He also refereed a few of our matches with the Butler Street Wrestling Club, and the guys loved having Manny doing the honors.

            The other organization was the 40/8 (their symbol being forty horses and eight wagons, reminiscent of the mode of transportation afforded American troops in WWI France). It was an elitist group within the Legion that was not officially recognized because of their by-law prohibiting non-whites from joining. The commanders of their posts were called the Chef de Gare, and Manny was elected to that position in his second year. Shortly afterward, they had their national convention which Manny and I attended. Back in the day, a Spaniard would have had a chance of a snowball in hell of earning the Chef spot. After a few drinks, Manny made the rounds at the four-star hotel we were at, making one and all of the conventioneers well aware of the fact!

            Manny and I bonded during that time, and though we did not see eye-to-eye quite often over the decades, in his golden years he finally realized how much I truly cherished him. I made him feel like it was Christmas every time I visited NYC, and I only wished one of my ships would have come in time to have given him so much more.

            Back in grade school, we weren’t quite that close because we were always trying to understand each other. He saw all my faults as the result of being spoiled by Mom. Conversely, I thought his problem was having been bullied by his Dad throughout his childhood. I figured he just didn’t know how to relate to kids. Having a hard ass as a father wasn’t the worst thing, I figured. He was still the toughest guy on the block, and that was something I was forever proud of. I was determined to live up to that legacy (not to mention Mom being the toughest woman in the ‘hood). Only I had a lot of toughening up to do, but I was looking forward to that as long as the ends justified the means.

            As you can see, major changes were taking shape in my life as I prepared myself for teenhood and my high school years. I would have no idea how drastic they would be, and I could never have dreamed that it would all become the prelude to the beginning of my lifelong journey as a rock and wrestling cult legend.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Last Legion?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

           Actually my drinking started a tad early, and I was taking advantage of my privileges in attending Manny’s social functions to indulge myself. He held office in the American Legion, its elite 40/8 society, and the Veteran Boxers’ Association. My Mom used to accompany him at first but grew to loathe most of the bottom-feeding social climbers who attended regularly. She implored him to quit but he would not. What my Mom could not understand was that he had been a public figure most of his life and could not forsake the limelight. She hit the bottle pretty hard around that time, but I would not place the entire blame at Manny’s feet. It was a lifelong challenge for her which she never entirely overcame until a series of events left her forever bedridden in 1992.

            He was a great public speaker and a diligent secretary, which secured his position as adjutant in all three organizations for life. They gave him the master of ceremonies spot at almost all of their functions, and he relished the attention. I think one problem may have been that Manny would have one too many drinks with his friends, then come home and act ignorant towards us. The truth was, he wasn’t much of a drinker, nowhere near as tolerant as Mom. They would go out and he would get polluted while she was still feeling fine. She would retaliate by getting shitfaced before an important event, and she would embarrass us no end. And so it went.

            The American Legion’s Gowanus Memorial Post was a sociological neighborhood phenomenon.  During the 60’s it was a powerhouse. They had parades during the springtime, annual dinners during the summer, and gave out Christmas baskets to needy families during the holidays. We loved going to the functions and took great joy in our father being prominent in the organization. The most fun was after the parades when they would rent out a Church hall and have a huge catered luncheon. We would see all the grownups in the neighborhood fellowshipping and letting their hair down, and it was quite a sight for us grade schoolers.

            The Legionnaires always said that they hoped that the organization would die of attrition in that there would be no more wars. Unfortunately, there was Korea, then Vietnam, but the Gowanus post was not quite ready for the new batch of vets joining the fold. There were a few young guys just back from Vietnam who signed up and were hoping to bring a breath of fresh air to the post. The older WWII vets from the ‘hood were not quite ready for that, so they got their wish as the post finally closed its doors at the end of the century.

            It seems that one can trace most of their bad habits back to their elders, which is why I stress that the parent should always lead by example. Manny would let me accompany him to the post to drop off his correspondence or pick up stationery, and invariably we would walk in on a poker game in process. John Lagana was a wannabe wiseguy who generally ran the games, and he would swear a blue streak from beginning to end. There was always a lot of green on the table, so they definitely weren’t playing penny poker. At that tender age, I whined to Manny that the language hurt my ears. Manny kind of blew it off, stating it was the guys’ night out, or words to that effect. When I think of the extraordinarily foul vocabulary I developed over the years, I would have to say that my subconscious may have registered the fact that this was how real men talked around each other.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hunting and Pecking?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

The ones who really got away were the twins, Laura and Terri La Rocca. They were friends of Lea’s and followed me around like groupies around that time, but they were skinny dorks so I never paid them much mind. One time, another girl named Andrea who was chasing after me beat them up, and they quit coming around. I played hockey with their brother for a time but lost sight of them. It wasn’t until years later when I was with Luna that I came across Laura on Wyckoff Street. Let me tell you, she was a stunner! She kinda looked down her nose at Luna, and, of course, I never saw her again.

            I could probably go on for half this book about those I’ve loved and lost, but what it boils down to is, had I gotten married, bought a home and had a family, I would have never been able to do the things that this story is all about. They say family is often a hostage to fortune, and in most cases, it certainly has been. Benny Rock was the first casualty, his two girls putting him out of the music business. Of course, it’s impossible to compare the value of a family to that of life accomplishments, it’s all apples and oranges. There has been many a day when I think of what might have been, having children, but when you finish reading this tale, you may understand the tradeoff from my viewpoint.

            Anyway, the rite of passage into puberty had an enormous physical effect on me. Suddenly I went from a 98-pound weakling into a growing 120-pound boy, and there was a lot of shit I was no longer taking from different people in the ‘hood. I also found myself able to run faster and for longer distances than I could before. I got myself a black three-speed bike, and began developing my legs by riding around all day during summer vacation. I also began taking some of the neighborhood girls for long rides as they sat on the crossbar. What was really crazy about that was that I never tried putting moves on any of them. I was just enjoying the company and the exercise, and it all made me faster and stronger than ever.

            Right about that time I started messing with Manny’s typewriter, and I started spending more and more time translating my fantasies into print rather than acting them out with my toy soldiers. My first work was “Enemy Ace”, a terribly-written novella about an ex-Nazi pilot turned CIA agent. After that I wrote a full-length novel about the fellow, a Fritz Von Hammermeister (!) which I recall being rather good. I followed that up with a futuristic novel about a reactionary takeover of the government which resulted in World War III and an American defeat.

            What happened next was pretty funny, though a sad reflection of my early relationship with Manny. I sent in a coupon for a home course in creative writing, and a school rep came out for an interview. Mom recalls Manny spending the entire interview bragging to the man about his accomplishments, as if none of it had anything to do with me!  Actually, I would find this to be a common trait among writers. When James Berry, a sci-fi writer who rented an apartment from the Yodels, began giving me tips on the writing business, I could not force myself to read the first chapter of his newly-published manuscript. Alternately, he read another story of mine, “Angie and the Jets”, and gave me some contact numbers, but did nothing to help beyond that. To their credit, Mom and Al Catraz were two of my most avid readers, as were Debbie Lara and Terri Thunders. Manny said he would read one of my books when it got published; as it turned out, I had “Tiara” printed just before he went to his grave.

            We had a unique relationship which evolved along a rocky road though eventually ripening with age. Manny had no reliable frame of reference when it came to fathering and raising a family. His Dad was lord and master, his Mom a young girl trying to adjust to a new culture with four boys to raise, his relatives all caught in similar predicaments. He found out early in life that the common denominator on the streets was violence and that he could make his mark with his fists, but to his credit he focused on developing his mind.

            He was a paradox in many ways. Mom used to confide in me that she was smarter than he was, and I think she was referring to common sense. He was extremely articulate and set my course towards an English degree by referring me to the dictionary every time I had a question about a word. Yet he would call someone out (at least in his middle age) at the drop of a hat rather than use his extensive diplomatic skills during an argument. He loved me as a son but maintained a distance from me until I was in my late teens. He did little to encourage my athletic career and was strict about alcohol abuse, but we did not become close until I was old enough to drink at the bar with him. At that point, I was able to get him to open up and find out who he really was.
(To be continued...)

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Figueroa Days?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

               I would have to say that it was a turning point in my life. It was a serious wreck at the crossroads between fantasy and reality, and made me consider the fact that trying to bridge the gap could be a dangerous thing, Nonetheless, I would spend the rest of my life creating illusions that challenged others to think outside the box, to transcend the restrictions that society imposed on their self-perception and potential in life. I would take every kid in the neighborhood that could pick up a hockey stick, carry a football or throw a punch and turn them into a player, no matter what their ability level. I have little doubt that almost every kid in our universe can look back and remember his day in the sun as an athlete on Butler Street.

Things continued the same way with both the Spoiler and the Ducky Boys. When I christened my living room the Surrealistic Death in ’72, I told Alma that it was going to be a haven for every musician, music lover, social reject and substance abuser in the neighborhood. As it turned out, it was an accurate prophecy on my part. We got people from all walks of life to stop by at one point or other, and no one was turned out without reason. Everyone got along in that small apartment, and when I knocked the wall down to turn the two small rooms into a bigger one, it made for more the merrier.  

This is not to say that people were on the Love Boat when they came into our inner circle. I was a notorious ribber all the way up until the Ducky Boys, and even then Zing and I gave the younger fellows hell after a few drinks. Most of it was in fun, and two of my prime targets, Richie Aceto and Danny O’Connor, used to laugh their butts off at my insults. Some fellows, like Louie Cazucci and Al Catraz, didn’t take the insults well, and we eventually laid off the thin-skinned types rather than have them leave the group.

The Yodels were big-time ribbers, but more often than not their ribs got vicious and sometimes led to fights. When they got together with the Butler Aces, people like Dilapidated Joe were reduced to tears. Most of the on-premises ribs at the Yodels home was fairly well controlled by their Mom Ginny, but what she did not see on the street was of no concern. For a time, the Yodels home was the prototype for the Surrealistic Death. When Nick left home, they declared open house, and everyone in the neighborhood hung out there. I had some of my most memorable times there, but when John turned against me I never went back.
The neighborhood continued to change as people moved out and new families moved in. The Figueroas proved to have just as much of an impact on my world as the Rock family would have nearly a decade later. Jesus Figueroa was a little kid, a couple of years younger, who had more street-smarts than most of the Butler Aces. He and I made friends on Day One after he had just moved next door that Spring of ’67 and was brandishing a set of boxing gloves, inviting me over to spar. Holding tight to my precarious position on the neighborhood food chain, I was able to bully him in short order. Afterwards he became a diversion from the tumultuous camaraderie of the Yodels, the psychodrama of the Reyes boys and the prepube playground with Mark.
It was always funny to see how political things got between siblings from different families. Jesus would taunt the Yodels, particularly Harold, mercilessly. Harold would start to make a move against Jesus, who ran straight to his big brother Ernie for backup. This would force Harold to run to Bobby, and the two older brothers would sort things out quite amicably. I saw this scenario replay a couple of years later when Paulie Yodels ran afoul of Izzy Galvan, who gave him a thumping. This brought a bemused Israel to a meetup with John and Harold, Israel without a clue as to why he was being involved.
            Jesus’ Dad, Guillermo, was the janitor of the Cobble Hill Theatre on the corner, and he would let us in at night to watch movies. I also got a kick out of hanging with Jesus because he was so mischievous. He would watch and wait until pedestrians flicked their cigarettes into the gutter, then eagerly spring out and retrieve the butts to toke on. Once, on New Year’s Day, some psychopath had killed two German Shepherds and dumped their carcasses on the corner of Butler and Smith, having cut the heads off one of them. Jesus put the head in a bucket and toted it up to Butler and Court, dumping it on the corner where it caused quite an outcry along the middle-class community. Another time we came across a sleeping drunk playing a radio, and Jesus tested him by turning off the radio, to which he did not respond. Jesus snuck off with the radio, and we took it to Greenwich Village and sold it for about ten bucks. We had quite a time for two underage kids coming into that kind of money. The most I’d ever gotten for an allowance, even as a teenager, was five bucks! 
            Jesus had three cute sisters who taught us all about the birds and bees. Migdalia was a beautiful girl with an hourglass figure and a lovely face. Her sisters Miriam and Yolanda were big girls, though at that age we didn’t give a damn. Actually, as you’ll see later, I had a bit to do with BBW’s in later years, so what goes around comes around. Anyway, instead of hiding in doorways playing hide and seek, we were now necking at every opportunity. Mark’s cousin Myrna got in on the act, though no one ever got to play with Migdalia. She was the oldest, and she had a boyfriend named Morocho who would’ve handed our asses to us for trespassing. Kenny, Georgie and I were the beneficiaries of this rite of passage as the Yodels were not quite up to such things at that point in time.
            John and I used to talk a great deal about the girls at school, though we never had the guts to do a thing about it. Of all the girls, Angela Vacirca and Juana Lugo were truly stunners, though both pretty slow on the scholastic side. Angela had a cousin named Angelo who was a vicious bastard, so no one came onto her. John had a thing for Juana, and though he got quite friendly with her, he never broached the subject of a date. I hung out with a couple of girls, Joann Mulhan and Jeanette DeArce, and things didn’t go too far as I was as dorky as they were. When I saw them years later in the ‘hood, I was astounded as to how they had developed into knockouts, but it was well before my day as a ladies’ man so that was that.
(To be comtinued...)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Man From SLEDCART?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

The internecine rivalries continued throughout that interval, and it was hard to keep track of who were friends and enemies without a scorecard. One week it would be the Reyeses against the Yodels, the next it was John and I against Harold and Kenny. A particularly amusing scenario occurred when the Reyes boys ran afoul of Bobby Yodels, the second-oldest of the brothers. Physically he was the smallest of the Yodels, something which frustrated him to no end. He made up for this with a glib-tongued con artistry which gave way to violent rage when provoked. On this particular evening, a verbal exchange led to the Reyes boys whipping Bobby with their garrison belts. Bobby proceeded over to the trusty old hellhole across the street and brought back a length of timber, at which point Lydia’s new beau Nelson rushed to intercede. Bobby continued his charge, sending one and all running for their lives.

SLEDCART was the first time my fantasy world ended on a crash course with stark reality. Kenny, Georgie and I had been smitten by The Man From UNCLE, an espionage TV series following hot on the heels of our beloved James Bond flicks. I decided that we were going to form an anti-terror organization when we grew up, with me as Director and the Reyes boys as my top agents. I came up with the acronym, which stood for Supreme Law Enforcement and Defense against Crime and Regional Terrorism. Not bad for a kid with a head stuffed with fantasies.

As fate would have it, the Butler Aces had broken into an insurance office in the vacant buildings across the street, resulting in a neighborhood visit by detectives from the 76th Precinct (which had relocated to Union Street). They came across Kenny and Georgie, and shortly afterward I found myself breathless in becoming involved in a criminal investigation. We invited the detectives to my home and brought them to my room with little ado, as my parents were out drinking. I was intent on using the occasion to get revenge on Robert Tal and Kevin Mahr, but Kenny and Georgie began spewing names like a fizzing bottle of pop. Before I knew it, he had the names of half the Aces, with Kevin and Edward atop the list. Sure enough, when the cops left the house, they walked right into Kevin, and the Butler Aces were on the road to extinction after that.

Tal and Mahr were two of the peripheral figures in the Aces’ hierarchy. Tal was an ugly bastard who resembled Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine. Mahr wasn’t much better looking, a mean character who never smiled. They would cajole me into hanging out with them, then use me for target practice by spitting on me. After reducing me to tears, they would apologize and convince me to tag along until the next gobbing session materialized.

Tal made a brief appearance in Ducky Boy history over a decade later when I spotted him on Butler Street and we began talking music. He told me he was studying flamenco guitar and was working part-time for RCA as a studio tech. I brought him by the house to hear “Year Zero” and he said he thought he could make a connection for us. I accompanied him to Midtown one afternoon, and we were in and out of a few buildings as he made phone calls to set appointments. He kept telling me that his contact was out of the office, and finally I gave up.  After a while I realized he was calling his drug connections and planning to use Big Turk as backup. Regardless, he continued to drop in now and again. The last time he did so, a can of tuna fish I had on the kitchen table disappeared. Class always shines through regardless of time or place, I suppose.
Going back to yesteryear, the day after the detectives’ visit, the Butler Aces were on the street in force and came as a lynch mob to where the Reyes-Nieves clan sat on the steps next door. Kenny and Georgie pled innocent, leaving me holding the bag, with my parents out drinking again. The word on the street was that I was going to have my prepube nuts cracked, and I was in mortal terror until Mom got wind of it.
Bear in mind that, with her Irish blood and Texas heritage, when she was tipsy she was ten feet tall and bulletproof (something that would vex me up until I left home). She roared out of the house one evening as the Aces were congregating on the street and swore a blue streak that, if I was touched, she would ‘hang [the offender] by the balls’. She took offense to one poor bastard named Matthew, who lived elsewhere, and began hurling bricks from the demolition area across the street at him. This pretty well took the steam out of the Aces, and getting even with me was now on the back burner. There were a few running jokes about Mom, but all were careful not to let anything get back to Manny, who spent his early evenings after dinner during the week smoking Luckies and reading the paper while sitting at the front window. He still had a legendary neighborhood rep, was in fine shape and was never in a cheery mood. In their wildest dreams, they might have overcome Mom, but Manny…nobody needed that in their lives.
I felt badly about how things went with the O’Connors after that. They were identified as the ringleaders and probably got slapped on the wrists at best, but things began falling apart for them from then on. Edward hated my guts, even when his baby brother Danny started hanging out with my crowd after the Aces disbanded. Kevin started using drugs and lost most of his prestige in the ‘hood as a result. We got back on good terms though one time he went into a drunken tirade on how he and the Aces would have stomped my crotch in back then. I let it go; in time I saw less and less of him.  The last time I saw him was on Wall Street. I was dressed in a suit and tie and he was in jeans, probably as a messenger, and his face was full of resentment. I didn’t even try to greet him; some things are better left alone. If any of the O’Connors read this, all I can say is, it wasn’t me.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Closed For Renovations?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

One thing that was creating a serious moral problem in the neighborhood was the demolition of the city block across the street, obliterating the tenements, retail stores, the 76th Precinct and the St. Francis College campus to make way for an intermediate school. We spent most of the summer playing in the abandoned buildings, but when the city moved in and began construction on the school, everything started to change.

For one, many homeowners were turning a blind eye to the rampant theft of building material that was taking place. At first it was the Styrofoam that we used for karate breaking boards. It next became bricks that were toted across the street for use in people’s back yards. Finally the city put up a fence and hired a guard to keep the kids out. This technically made it a misdemeanor to trespass onto the site, and this was where Manny put his foot down on me, though I should have learned my lesson long before that.

One night I was with the O’Connors in the abandoned police garage before it was torn down. The brothers found some paint buckets and decided to splash the paint all over the walls and floors. Once they ran out of paint, Edward got the bright idea of dropping a match in one of the puddles. Needless to say, the entire place was in blazes within minutes, and the whole neighborhood watched us scurry out from the pried-open front door. I ran home and found too late that I had red paint all over my combat boots. This time it was Lea’s turn to watch as I took one of the asskickings of my life after Manny saw the fire trucks arrive.

Anyway, it was as if lines were being drawn in the neighborhood and I was on the wrong side of them. Neither Lydia nor Ginny, the Yodels’ mom, had any problem with their kids going onto the site, but I had to sneak in from the Baltic Street side and avoid the Butler side entirely. Another big problem that arose was that the O’Connor were now doing drugs, and they were mixing and matching new substances with the Puerto Ricans, who were bringing anything they could find into the site for partying. When my Mom heard of this she came down even harder than Manny, but I still took my chances and snuck in anyway rather than become ostracized by my friends.

As you can see, we came a long way from playing marbles and toy soldiers, and all those bad influences I discussed in the previous chapters were wracking the community with a vengeance. If Nick Yodels or Vincent Reyes were still around, you can rest assured that I might have well remained the loosest cannon on deck. Plus, replacing the police station with this delinquent paradise was not the best thing the city could have done for our neighborhood.

Again, my key to survival was in being able to outwit my larger counterparts, but for a while there I was almost out of control of my newly formed Wild Bunch. Their idea of fun was going down to the highway and dropping rocks down on passing vehicles. Once this got stale, they graduated to throwing rocks at buses and store windows. Eventually the cops paid a visit to the Nieves home, and within a few weeks, Georgie was on his way to Puerto Rico.
(To be continued...)

Friday, September 27, 2013


(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

Mrs. O’Shea was an Irish matron who was somewhat distant yet far more approachable than most of the other faculty members. It was in her class that I struck up a friendship with John Yodels, the third of five brothers who lived down the street. His Dad, Nick, was a brawny longshoreman who was crippled in an accident on the docks and took his frustrations out on his family for years, unbeknownst to anyone until wife Ginny ran off with the kids and sued for divorce. John was the firebrand of the family and was a hellraiser even while under his father’s iron fist.

John shared the same birthday (May 7th) as my Dad and my eventual neighbor, Jonathan Osborn. Like my Dad, he was a born politician and did enjoy being glorified. Unlike my Dad, however, he was a schemer and had a mean streak that didn’t go away until decades later when he got married and became the father of two beautiful daughters. We hit it off greatly, and he provided a comfort zone when Vincent forbade Kenny and Georgie from hanging with me after one of our pranks was discovered. It resulted in a rivalry between John and Kenny that continued until both finally moved from the neighborhood.

John’s younger brother Harold was also one of his biggest rivals. Harold wore glasses when I first met him and appeared quite the geek. When he got older he ditched the glasses, giving him a stare reminiscent of “Old Creepy”, Alvin Karpis. It was a weird pecking order between us. John would dump all over Harold, who took it out on me, but I was best able to get back at John because he was lighter on me than he was on Harold. Harold was far more vicious than I was, and it wasn’t until I developed as a teenager that he stopped trying to get the upper hand on me.

 John’s other big rival was the star pupil of our class at St. Paul’s, David Moon. David was the youngest of three boys in an Italian-Lebanese household which was goal-oriented and highly competitive. As I was an underachiever and David an overachiever, we ended up fairly close grade-wise, and John was always trying to catch us. Physically, David and John were more of a match, and John called David out a few times but could never beat him.

I was still closer to the Reyes brothers at the time, though that would change after their parents split up. Both of the brothers would develop major insecurity problems and grew hostile and violent as a result. At the time, they were more like Romulus and Remus, and I managed to co-exist between them as their playmate and best friend. Eventually, however, the cold cruel world closed in on us, and our lives would take us in completely different directions in a few short years.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Soldier of Christ?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

I’ll never forget the day of my Confirmation, which, according to Catholic mythology, was the day I was ‘made’ as a soldier of Christ. I had my parents agree to having Vincent as my godfather, which disappointed my Dad who would have chosen Jimmy Maher (as I should’ve) instead. I was hoping it would have brought our families closer, but as a stupid kid, I had no way of knowing better. At any rate, we all headed over to St. Paul’s Church for the big day, and when it was my turn to stand before the Bishop, I nearly swooned and had to be held up by Vincent for the tap on the cheek.

What happened that day would not make sense until nearly three decades later when I rededicated myself as a soldier of Christ. I had never swooned or went faint in my life before or since. I would come to realize that, on that day, I was slain in the Spirit. In layman’s terms, it is when the Holy Ghost knocks you off your feet. You see it mostly in Pentecostal churches when a Spirit-filled pastor lays hands on members of the congregation. I’ve taken what I call ‘courtesy bumps’ from time to time, going down in tribute to the pastor’s ministry out of respect. On my confirmation day, that was the only time I was ever truly staggered by the Holy Ghost.

This clearly proved that the Holy Ghost is not exclusive to any particular sect, denomination or non-denomination. After I left the Catholic Church, I was steeped in literature (particularly with the Jehovah’s Witnesses) alleging that the Roman Church is the Babylon of apocalyptic prophecy. Whether or not that is true of the entire organization, I’m not going to discuss here. What I will say is, first of all, I took my only hit from the Holy Ghost in St. Paul’s, and that can’t be denied. Secondly, the Scripture clearly says that to be saved, one must believe in Jesus as Savior and that He died for their sins. Faith, rather than the sect one belongs to, is the bottom line, brethren.

It was during this time that I refined my leadership qualities, my altruistic characteristics as well as the more Machiavellian sort. Kenny was a big chunky kid, and Mom’s theory was that the only reason he couldn’t kick Georgie’s butt was out of fear of retribution from his parents. Georgie was always described by Mom as the wiry type, and he always found a way to subdue Kenny. Needless to say, I was no match for either of them, so my alternative was mind games. I would play one of them against the other most of the time, then regret it when they spent the rest of the evening trying to outwrestle each other. When they broke out of my spell a couple of years later they made formidable enemies, but at that time it was all for one and one for all.

Most of the trouble we got into was over Belen’s jealousy over my friendship with Kenny and Georgie. I had hung around with her sons Jimmy and Johnny for quite a while before Kenny and Georgie came along, and afterwards (as what happened with Mark and Joe) there was no room for anyone else. To make matters worse, Jesus caught onto the fact that Johnny was a sissy, and that turned the poor kid into a laughing stock. Kenny and Georgie went to great lengths to torment him, and they got shellacked by Vincent for it quite a few times. He even ordered them to quit hanging around with me now and again, especially after I talked them into a failed attempt to run away from home.

Vincent’s strictness seemed to be more of a way for him to get back at Lydia than discipline the boys, and I suffered as much as they did when he ruled against me. As the Lord would have it, I made new friends who, once again, would bring some new and major changes in my life.
(To be continued...)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Terrible Trio?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

Back in the ‘hood, things changed drastically when a lovely Puerto Rican divorcee named Nilda and her daughter Evelyn moved into a house two doors down from the Sosas, namely James and Belen, and their sons Johnny and Jimmy. It turned out that Nilda was James’ sister. Shortly after, their divorced sister and her three sons moved in with Nilda, and it resulted in a friendship that would make an enormous impact on my life.

The Reyes Brothers were the sons of Lydia and Vincent, a striking couple like my parents who weren’t quite as compatible. Lydia was a sensuous Puerto Rican peasant who fell in love with Casanova, who Dad contemptuously referred to as a ‘pussy man’. The couple was separated when I first met the family, and the boys were thrilled when their Dad came back home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before they had another fight and Vincent hit the bricks once again. Lydia ruled the boys with an iron hand, but they were tough kids, and when they hit puberty she lost control altogether.

In Vincent’s defense, I think it was another case of Manny’s low-browed intolerance rearing its head. Though he was a very intelligent man, Dad never spent much time in introspection, which was a shame because spirituality would have changed his life profoundly. He tended to stereotype people, which may sound hilarious to many coming from me, but the difference between us was my common denominator towards the child of God. Anyway, Manny never considered how many times Vincent was forced to sleep on the couch, which had to be an indignity to any ladies’ man. Granted, running out for female consolation was no answer, but I doubt Manny even broached the subject.

Kenny, Georgie and Mickey became central figures in my life as we developed a powerful relationship. Kenny and Georgie were much stronger than I, so I resorted to my intellect and cunning to remain the dominant figure in our friendship. They were in constant awe of my imagination, and in turn, they backed me with the physical force I never had. When I barked, they bit, and as puppies, we chewed up a lot more than we got caught at. I talked my way out of most snafus with my Mom, but Kenny and Georgie took quite a few ass-whuppings as a result of our mischief. For those of you who do not believe in corporal punishment, I can guarantee that the brothers’ lives would have gone in an entirely different direction had Vincent and his discipline remained an influence.

Mickey was a peripheral figure who tagged along at times, though Lydia was very protective of her youngest son and called him in far earlier than his older brothers. Still, he joined the Butler Street Wrestling Club and became the No. 1 contender for Judo Jesus Figueroa’s junior championship. When Vincent bailed out, Lydia shipped Mickey back to Puerto Rico to live with relatives rather than follow in his brothers’ footsteps. Mickey grew up to be a preacher, and I cannot help but hope that our discussions about Jesus and the Good Life were an influencing factor.
(To be continued...)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Little Altar Boy?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

It wasn’t quite as easy as one might think, especially in this day and age. For one thing, the Mass was said in Latin back then, and a large part of the litany had to be memorized thusly. Another thing was that you were given a weekly schedule to adhere to, and if you turned down assignments you didn’t expect to be around long. You can imagine my surprise when I was given an entire week of serving 6:30 Mass. This, folks, was 6:30 in the AM, which meant I had to get up about 5:30 AM and trudge through the dark winter streets, serve a 45-minute Mass, then get back home for breakfast before heading off to school. Looking back at it, I’m kinda surprised Lioness Mom put up with it, but both her and Dad were pleased, and I never did take my service to the Lord lightly, up to this very day.

One thing I got out of it was a boost in my self-discipline and confidence from the accomplishment. Another thing, I knew it was bringing me closer to the Lord. After all, the tradition was that the altar was still the holy place, and I was standing at it right beside the priest. Plus I was getting to hobnob with all the priests, which I had no reason to think of being anything but a good thing. Maybe my estimation of the Roman Church would nosedive over time, but I still look back at those days and know the Lord appreciated the effort.

Another big event around that time was when my cousin Pam Pilsner came out to visit us. The last time I saw her was as a little kid at a family reunion in Fort Worth at Aunt Marge’s place. She was a big dorky kid who went out of her way to make sure I got my first-ever ride on a real-live horse. I was fond of her sister Becky, but I was not quite her cup of tea. That became quite clear in our mature years when I tried to rekindle our relationship and she blew me off curtly. Pam, however, went through a number of changes in her life much as I did, and during this stage of evolution she came to visit during a break in her stint as an airline stewardess. Let me tell you, she was a blonde goddess in her sky-blue uniform, and Mark and I were completely enchanted. I wrote her a letter and bought a $5 piece of jewelry from a school sale to send with it.

Here again my Mom stepped in with another one of her distracted decisions. She told me I could not send the gift because it would have made ‘them’ think I was looking for one in return. In retrospect, I can see how the whole affair reeked of the ludicrous family protocol that saturated all of our internecine relationships. It served only to foster the hypocrisy that eventually destroyed the network of the entire generation. At any rate, the letter to Pam from her adoring young cousin was never sent.
(To be continued...)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Child's Play?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

Lea and I were as different as night and day. I explained the sibling rivalry to an extent as a result of jealousy over our Mom, but over time it became more complicated than that. She had a stubborn streak (that I would find common among many women) that led her to do the exact opposite of what logic dictated if the situation arose from argument or debate. One way this manifested itself was through her choice of friends. My friends Mark, Kenny and Georgie were all light-skinned Puerto Ricans. She tended towards the darker types and broke bread with more than a few mulattoes and blacks as a result. I know this looks ugly in print, but keep in mind that there were barriers reinforced by violence in the day, most from the other side of the color line. As she got older she began finding boyfriends on that side, which embarrassed and infuriated me no end. The fact that she was underage made this intolerable to my parents, and I ratted her out more than a number of times. She caught her share of beatings but persisted until her teen years when my parents finally gave up.

One of her early friends was Myrna, the younger sister of Gloria, who I mentioned. She and Myrna introduced me to Mark, who would become one of my lifelong friends. Mark was slightly below average intelligence though he demonstrated the same creative spurts as I did in orchestrating large-scale Western melodramas with his large box of toy soldiers. We were doing such things all the way up until puberty, and I actually continued on in a sense with the wrestling and hockey games I created. They were a big thing in the neighborhood, though unfortunately I never thought of patenting them (and my parents hadn’t a clue as usual). Looking back, I realized it was a manifestation of my storytelling ability, which helped me evolve into a novelist and a performance artist. Unfortunately it never happened for Mark, who made attempts at painting but never got very far. I think it was influenced by our friend Israel years later but, sadly enough, Mark never got the guidance or encouragement he needed.

Mark was the only child of Ana Davila, his Dad abandoning them when he was a baby. His uncle Willie lived with them, and he ran roughshod over Mark for years until we hit adolescence. From then on we all became friends, and it was kind of funny in looking back how we were so awed by Willie, who was a runt of a man. At any rate, Mark and I remained close for over a year, hooking up with Joe Colander to play with toy soldiers or wander around looking for kid things to do.

Before the O’Connors hit puberty and let their vicious streak surface, they demonstrated just how much they could have done for the neighborhood had they gone the other way. Whatever fad or fancy the brothers came upon, it became the rage of the neighborhood. If the brothers bought tops, everyone in the neighborhood was playing tops. If they decided on marbles, the block looked like a mini-arcade, with cardboard stands and tin cans set up along every open space in the gutter featuring games where one could win or lose marbles. When they discovered skellies, everyone was drawing the nine-box game pattern on the street and teaming for tournament play. Things got rougher in time, and soon we all went from water guns to water balloons, then pea shooters. It finally peaked after we went from shooting paper clips at each other to having egg fights, at which point the police came down on us. The O’Connors shied away at that point, and did not get in trouble with the law again until much later.

On the spiritual front, I jumped at the chance to become an altar boy at St. Paul’s Church as soon as I came of age. Strangely enough, almost all of the Butler Aces became altar boys at one time or another, and I vividly recall a tense moment during the SLEDCART affair some time later when I was alone with one of the Aces who had me targeted as a squealer. At any rate, it was considered an honor and a privilege, and my parents were as proud as I was when I came home with my cassock and surplus after having completed the training course.
(To be continued...)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

All In The Family?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

Parental abuse was a major problem in the neighborhood. Most of it was due to the fact that it was a second-generation community where most adults had been victims of abuse from immigrant parents who didn’t know better. Other situations were caused by overcrowding and broken families. One girl that comes to mind was Gloria Rivera. Her mother married a real piece of crap who used to beat the hell out of Gloria just because she wasn’t his kid. She was a real sweet girl, very tender and kind, with a dusky look and curly hair like a gypsy. At one point we called ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend but never even kissed. As time went on, she got involved in drugs, and I was too na├»ve to think I could have made a difference. Eventually she died of an overdose, a beautiful life gone for no reason other than a piece of shit stepfather driving her to drugs.

It was almost as if everywhere you turned there was a different manifestation of violence. Court Street was dominated by the Italians, and we even had a pool hall up the corner for decades that was run by Mafia-connected guys. My parents were in their glory hanging out at Angelo’s, a Mafia bar on the corner of Court and Degraw where Manny was seen as a local celebrity. Down the block running parallel to Court was Smith Street, predominantly Puerto Rican territory. Those kids matured faster and were steeped in violence, and could kick the ass of most white kids their age, on the whole. Another thing was that some carried weapons and were affiliated with gangs, alien concepts at the time.

Beyond that was Hoyt Street, another block down running parallel to Smith. This was where the Gowanus Projects were located, a predominantly black residential facility. We had the absolute fear of God of the area and avoided it like the plague. Unfortunately for us, the ASPCA was located near Hoyt Street, and we animal lovers ventured there at our own risk. The minute a black kid came towards us, we ran for our lives. Sadly, it instilled in us a spirit of xenophobia which I struggled with throughout my early adolescence.

It’s hard to reconcile it all to what the neighborhood is today. The predominant groups, Irish, Italian and Puerto Rican, have all moved out in giving place to rich polyethnic yuppies and Third Worlders from all over the globe. The kids crowding the streets during school hours disappear after hours, and most of the people moving around after dark are students and workers running errands or heading home. Actually, Brooklyn is no different than the neighboring boroughs. If you wander the streets of New York, you’re not going to find many traces of what I describe in this book. It’s a different world out there, but you have to understand where you came from before you can prepare for where you’re going. Hopefully those from my era will come to a better understanding of the past in reading this, and the next generation will find this useful in bridging the gap.

For my part, it was exceedingly difficult to reconcile all this until decades later. I felt as if trapped in a prison of neighborhoods, and continually retreated along with my friends to our fantasy world, which was our comfort zone. It was teenage angst which drew us out, and we held onto our fantasies as long as possible to avoid getting submerged in the volcano of reality.

What it all boils down to is the fact that art and entertainment is man’s safety valve to help relieve life’s pressures The only thing that separated the Spoiler and the Ducky Boys from the predators were the fact that we were artists, we created something, we helped others chart their own courses for the future. It is just as we see throughout history. The societies that sought only to seek and destroy eventually devoured themselves, and faded into history. Those that created and influenced endure throughout the ages.

Hopefully this book will be a testament as to how and why we endured.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Crying Game?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)

Ed was pretty well a step ahead of me in most directions, as it turned out. When I met the Wilkie boys years later, it seemed they had been playing for a short time in a band with him. This was way before I ever dreamed I had a chance in rock and roll. A couple of years after that, I saw him playing solo at a block party on Douglass Street and, let me tell you, his act was together. He was doing some hard rock which I would rank among the best I’ve seen. Our paths crossed one last time when I met him on the subway on the way to Wall Street and invited him to check out the Spoiler. He liked what he saw, but his playing days were over, having begun his career at IBM.

As you will see, going from 98-pound weakling to neighborhood jock gave me some serious attitude problems when I realized I was no longer at the bottom of the pecking order. Yet again, with the right guidance, lots of the negative energy caused by the teenage angst might have been diffused. I’m hoping this is a fun book, good for laughs and entertainment. Yet, as with my art, hopefully the lessons I learned can lend a hand to others walking those same roads, and help them avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered along the way.

One thing I noticed as time went on was how the turmoil in the O’Connors’ lives manifested itself throughout Butler Street. Although it would be many years before I could connect the dots, it was an excellent paradigm as to what true leadership is about. The brothers were standouts both scholastically and socially, and as a team they were nearly unbeatable. Edward was the more studious of the two and was decidedly tougher than his younger brother. Kevin had a great personality and was quite a sportsman. Back in the day we measured throwing ability by how far one could toss a football. The distance between two manhole covers in a New York street was probably about thirty yards, and anyone who could toss that far was considered to have a throwing arm. Well, Kevin could throw one almost two sewers, but really thought nothing of it.

What turned them on was bullying and domination after their Mom died. At their peak, the Butler Aces numbered about a hundred strong, kids from all over the neighborhood coming to hang out. Yet it never amounted to anything. I never saw them engaging in sports, or anything else, for that matter. It was all about hanging out, playing the tough guy, picking on smaller kids and getting over on girls. As far as the girls went, it was mind-boggling. The prettiest girls in St. Paul’s School came around, and these guys would treat them like shit. With little kids, it was all about making them cry.

I realized later that their father, during his drunken episodes, must have sat around and tormented the brothers, just as they would do to everyone else. They actually had a passion for making others cry, and it had to be a learned trait. I saw them make just about everyone on the block cry at one point or another, and that was a lot of kids. It wasn’t a result of beatings, but psychological torment, again, an acquired skill. They humiliated their target until they reduced them to tears of shame and anger. Kevin tried it on me one time, and I cursed his dead mother so viciously he kicked me in the ass, but never bothered me again.

The point here is that the influence of a good leader, or a bad one, has a ripple effect throughout his group that affects the lives of all those in contact. After the O’Connors left the neighborhood, the Yodel faction still dominated the lower half of the block by intimidation. Once they left, the Butler Street Jets were all about sports, and though there was the alpha male influence, all in all, we were still teammates. As we evolved into the Spoiler, then the Ducky Boys, there was still a pecking order and some good-natured ribbing, but no one ever went home crying.

(To be continued...)