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

Yodeling?

(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...)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mothers I Would've Liked To...Have Flirted With?

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


To this day, however, I do believe that to spare the rod, you spoil the child. Almost all of society’s problems come from the lack of parental and social discipline at home and school. You have to find balance in applying such principles, just as in all things within God’s wonderful universe. You can’t go from one extreme to the other, as people do these days in letting their kids run wild with no restraints whatsoever. Kids need discipline and guidance, and when they cannot find it they will continue thrashing about in frustration until they do. Sadly enough, in more and more American communities, they end up under the jurisdiction of the local police and law enforcement.

Around this time Ed and I found ourselves in competition time and again and it eventually soured our friendship. Being in different classes found us among different groups of friends as the two classes tended to fellowship amongst themselves. We still walked home together, but he tended to stray off towards a small group of girls who lived off Kane Street. He introduced me to the girls but he developed a crush on one in particular, Carmela Barone. He eventually picked a fight over her and got the edge over me, and our partnership came to an end.

Ed and I drifted apart over the years, though our trails appeared to overlap a number of times. His brother Joe began playing toy soldiers with my friend Mark and I, and we recreated just about every TV show or movie we could imagine, from superheroes to Westerns to war sagas. The arrival of the Reyes brothers in my life made things far more physical than my old friends could endure, however, and Ed nearly got his face punched off his head by both Kenny and Georgie when he tried to play the man one time. Joe went home crying after a bit of roughhousing, and Ed made the tragic mistake of coming up the street and shoving Kenny. That got him one of the biggest punches in the face I ever saw in my life. Georgie definitely wanted some of that, and soared in with an equally solid face shot. I think they got another one apiece before Ed went back home, wailing and crying like a girl in the schoolyard. Needless to say, he never crossed paths with the Reyes brothers again. To add insult to injury, Joe came back around after a time as if nothing happened.

A few years later, I saw that Ed was still playing the ladies’ man in hooking up with Gina, a cute Italian girl from down the street. I remember that her Mom was quite a good-looking woman but, of course, she could have probably mopped the floor with me. Plus, I would’ve probably fainted if she even spoke to me. There were so many beautiful women in the area back in the day, it’s an enormous credit to Manny that he never went astray. Then again, the Lord helped me withstand severe temptation during my marriage to Debbie in SA as I was surrounded by incredibly sexy women myself. From my childhood, I remember this stunning redheaded woman who came daily to pick up Philip Montana at St. Paul’s. I had fantasies of morphing into my comic book hero, the Sub-Mariner, and whisking her off to Never-Neverland with me. There was also Vicki, a barmaid at Angelo’s, who was Mark and my own living, breathing Ann-Margret. I have a sneaking suspicion that my friend John Yodels named his daughter after her.
 
(To be continued...)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making the First Grade?

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


            Sr. Kathleen Marie was the first real heartthrob of my life, after Mom, of course. I was smitten by the tall, thin, young blonde Irish nun and began festooning the top of my assignment sheets with cartoon ‘gifts’ such as hearts, flowers and coins. About the third time she firmly ran them through with a red-pen ‘X’. Welcome to first grade, fella.

            She also tried to pull me over on a couple of other quirks that would indicate the psychological direction I was taking in life. My insecurity required attention and I was forever either cutting up in class or acting like the Frankenstein Monster on the schoolyard. I also took to putting together makeshift Monsters for show-and-tell. When I took to talking to them instead of classmates at recess, Sister Kathleen squashed that routine as well. Eventually I fell in line, yet continued to lose my place by following the lead of my first boyhood chum, Edward Colander.

Ed was a tall skinny kid who bore a striking resemblance to Alfalfa of the Little Rascals. He was a real dork and a prankster who was forever getting me in trouble though I was only six months younger than he. His Dad was a big doofus who I suspect was much smarter than he let on but got no respect from his peers in the ‘hood, my Dad included. His Mom, Mary, was a street-wise peasant with a loud mouth who had an earthy sensuous quality about her, like many Italian women in the neighborhood. His brother was an endearing little kid whose world somehow went sideways, resulting in a pre-pube drug addiction which turned him into the local laughing-stock and whipping boy known as Dilapidated Joe.

            Ed was forever looking for a prank and scheme to pull off, and more often than not I was either his cohort or target as the case might be. As I had a proclivity for channeling at even that tender age, I was imitating Ed at home and school, which aggravated Mom and Sister Kathleen no end. So it was no surprise to anyone but me that, at school’s end, we were split up as Ed was assigned to class 2-2. I got 2-1 and the trauma of my young life under Sister Rose.

Sr. Rose Marion was a wizened, hunched-over battleaxe of a woman who was the first of the SPS ‘serial killers’ I had the misfortune of serving time under. Obviously Sister Kathleen saw the need to split Ed and me up, yet in doing so I was cast into the lake of fire, in which Sister Rose was the chief demon. Her favorite tactic was slapping one’s face with both hands, which made the double-slam worse as the jaw could not recoil. All in all, she wasn’t as bad as some, including Mrs. O’Shaughnessy in fourth grade, who would take students in the hall and bounce them like ping-pong balls off the wood-finished walls; or Sister Mary Vincent in sixth grade, who would beat your outstretched palms with a thick ruler; or Sister Elizabeth Marie in seventh grade, who used the boys’ neckties like dog leashes. These frustrated women had no qualms whatsoever in subjecting victims to vicious tongue-lashings as they saw fit, and the daily ordeals were often as psychologically punishing as physical.

My own psyche was so delicate through these tender years that my greatest dread was not of the nuns, but of what would happen if word got home. Just as at school, there was not as much physical punishment as psychological, and I had fearful reactions to the thought of being masticated by my parents. There was a psychological dissonance created by this perfect self-image my Mom reinforced, conflicting with the fact I was trapped in this scrawny body and tormented by a spirit of rebellion that made me a chronic underachiever. Throughout the years, Manny chalked it up to a lack of discipline. I realized over the decades that it was his negligence in stepping in as a role model and a patient, loving voice of reason. We never really did discuss it, however; the damage was done and it did no good to open old wounds that had finally healed in time.
 

(To Be Continued...)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pre-School Daze?

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


            Going back to my first three-to-five on Planet Earth, I remember waking up early every morning and wandering around outside in my brave new world. There was a blue jacket I wore in the fall that reminded me of the DC Comics’ Blackhawks, and a yellow-striped shirt that made me feel like BB Eyes from Dick Tracy. One time I came across a rusty chain that looked like the one Popeye used to bust with a punch in the cartoons. I gave it a try and picked up a scar that remains with me to this day.

            The most important of my earliest recollections was my relationship with the Lord. My Mom deserves all the credit for bringing me close to Him at bedtime prayers. She also told me how much she prayed for me before I was born, which has Scriptural precedent in the Book of Samuel. As a result, I have always dedicated my life to the Lord, for better or worse, and the Holy Ghost has been with me as far back as I remember.

            Outside of the Riveras, the only kids I remember from those days were the O’Connors. Their Mom Nora was a cancer victim, their Dad was an Irish drunk, and the oldest sister Colleen lost an eye to a stick-wielding playmate in a stupid accident. Kevin was the third child, about three years older than I, and our relationship fluctuated along with his whims to either befriend or belittle me. One day he came along and began a tug-of-war for one of the sticks I used to carry around. I landed on my butt and responded by hurling a fistful of gravel in his face. His family rallied to file grievance but got nowhere with Mom the lioness. Kevin would remain a big figure in my early life up to the time of the SLEDCART affair, which I’ll describe later.

            Another melancholy memory was that of our babysitter, Julia Lopez. She was a schoolteacher from Puerto Rico who lived upstairs and was more than glad to watch over Lea and I as my parents resumed their nocturnal pursuits. Unfortunately, I took my parents’ absence out on her, though she never ratted me out. I was a wretched bastard towards her, and when my friend Edward came along, he goaded me on to greater disrespect.  She was diagnosed with cancer years later, and her older sister Paca (who I got on well with) took us out to visit. I was a bit older and offered my sincere condolences, but the look in her eye told me she was having little of it. It kinda reminded me of the look my nephew Thumper would give me at a critical point in time decades later. At any rate, it was one of the things I regretted over time, and only wished I had shown the woman more respect with time remaining.

St. Paul School was the place where all respectable middle-class Catholic families in Cobble Hill sent their kids. I’ll never forget my first day of school as Mom brought me into the crowded school auditorium where a frightful, black-cloaked nun pored over my paperwork and instructed my Mom to abandon me along a line at the far wall. I felt as if I had crossed a threshold above which sat the sign, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Only an angel came to my rescue, and she would help me safely negotiate the first course along the series of intermittent train wrecks which was my elementary school education.

(To be continued...)

 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Way Back When?

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


          My earliest memory goes back to nearly choking to death as an infant. My Mom used to tell a story about how I had once tried to swallow a penny, and how she saved my life by grabbing me by the hocks and jerked me upside down until I spit it out after turning a deep purple. Psychologists may be quick to argue that she implanted the fantasy in my mind, but I have always been able to recall a murky episode in which I picked a coin from a spread before me and popped it in my mouth before it all faded away. I have always surmised that Manny had spread the coins for the baby’s delight with unexpected results. Of course, Mom strenuously disagreed with that recollection, since all is forever well in La-La Land.

Another of my earliest recollections was the day Lea was born. Manny left me with our downstairs neighbors, Margaret Rivera, Joe’s wife, and their daughters Miriam and Janet as he rushed to the hospital to bring my Mom home. I don’t remember a whole lot about the transition period, but Mom used to tell me about how I would punch at her when she drove the big metal pins into the crying baby’s diapers. Apparently I was gung-ho about being a big brother until I found, to my chagrin, that Baby Sis had her own wants and needs which would never coincide with my own. She also developed the rebellious family spirit that would set us at odds for most of our lives, bringing us to the impasse where we remain today.

            Again, my pre-school world was all about comic books and TV shows, largely because the Lord had gifted me with the ability to read at the age of three. This could have well transformed my entire life, but thanks to my tunnel-visioned Mom, it never did. It enhanced my parents’ local celebrity with their new prodigy, but attempts to publicize the ability were flatly rejected. Later on, Mom also forbade Manny from teaching me to box for fear of having my brains scrambled. Either turning me into a child star or a boxer could have spared me enormous effort and turmoil in the years ahead. My parents were, though, in many ways, the Lucy and Ricky of the TV sitcom that most people said they resembled…and it was largely because of Mom.

            She would never realize some of the long-term damage her misguided strategies caused. She was always telling me not to be afraid of anyone, and to punch them right in the nose if I got into a scrap. Yet she also made me think that it was a quitter who lost, and that I should never quit. That not only indoctrinated me into the never-say-die mind frame but also made me believe throughout my life that losing was shameful. It was a thought process that cost me some of the most valuable learning experiences in my life, just because the risk of losing was too great to bear.

            It seemed as if her husband and kids had settled her down and renewed the strong sense of family that she so desperately clung to. It turned her into a raging lioness when any of these were threatened. The Butler Aces found this out during the SLEDCART affair of my youth. Of all her personal treasures, she constantly extolled the fact that I was the greatest of these. This was something I held onto as an entitlement for many years, and as I began to question its validity I began to resent its specious nature. It was far too late in life when its true nature was finally proven, her grandson Thumper having usurped my place in her heart as Lea stole my very birthright and inheritance. But, more about that later.
 
(To be continued...)
 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Wonder Years?

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


            I was born at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn and was raised in their apartment at 14 Butler Street. Located between Court and Smith Street in Cobble Hill, our street was truly a piece of South Brooklyn history and, in my mind, remains a place where the ghosts of yesteryear forever wander. The 76th Precinct was directly across the street from my home, right next door to St. Francis College, both of which were sandwiched between the tenements where most of our friends lived. It was a prototypical melting pot, the Irish and Italian families on my side of the street facing the largely Puerto Rican families on the other side. We lived in peaceful (though boisterous) co-existence, kids playing and raising heck from sunrise to sunset for years until the city tore down the tenements to make way for a public school.

            I was the original 98-pound weakling, and it was only my genius intellect (my best IQ score was in the 150’s) that helped me survive my childhood. There were lots of gangs out there ranging from the Black Diamonds (black leathers and switchblades) and the Ambassadors (high school kids) to the Butler Boys and the Douglass Street Gang, local equivalents of the Bowery Boys. The big kids adopted me as their mascot but I gravitated towards kids my own age, who admired me for my overactive imagination.

            I played with toy soldiers until I was nearly ostracized by my peers, which included the Yodels and the Reyes brothers. They coerced me onto the streets where I tried to find a way to reconcile my childhood fantasies with the burgeoning reality of street life, which my friends were embracing far more swiftly in our approaching adolescence. I finally found a way through my first love that would continue to define my entire life: pro wrestling.

            I was all about TV serials and comic books, but when I caught my first glimpse of the superheroes of the ring, fantasy became a sordid reality in which I found myself…time and time again. At first I was Bulldog Bruiser (a combo of my fanzine heroes, Bulldog Brower and Dick the Bruiser), then for a short time I was Killer Shark. The ability to sell such a character among my peers was, in itself, an astonishing event, but it was part of my evolution as a showman. Broadway Turk Superstar didn’t come along until a couple of years later.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The War Years?

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


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1944, the Dizon boys were among the first in their neighborhood to sign up for World War II. Dolfo and Daniel joined the Army while Manny opted for the Navy. Dad went in as a radio operator and got shot down by friendly fire over the Pacific on a Navy mission. He ended up with a bad back that bothered him for the rest of his life, but fortunately it didn’t stop him from continuing his boxing career. He signed up for the Navy boxing team and won numerous titles and tournaments in different weight classes. Prestige had its privileges, and Manny partied hardy in the best clubs throughout the West Coast along with his entourage and hangers-on. It was during one of these stops where Manny’s life would change forever.

Sandy just happened to be partying at a local nightclub when the Dizon crew made its way through the door. She caught Manny’s eye and they exchanged glances for a time until Manny came by and dropped a note on her table. He asked her to meet him there the next night, but she thought little of it as she went carousing with her buddies that next evening. Towards the end of the night she remembered the note and decided to stop by to see if he had actually showed. Sure enough, Manny was sitting forlorn on a barstool on his lonesome, waiting beyond hope. When she showed up, well, it was love at first sight, depending on which of them told the story. Regardless, it blossomed into a lifelong relationship that lasted nearly a half-century until Manny died of a heart attack on November 13, 2004.

            They got married by a Justice of the Peace, and shortly thereafter caught a ton of flak from Mom’s family for her having married a Spanish fellow. She broke communication with them until the early 50’s when they sent a letter to the Dizons’ address on Douglass Street in Brooklyn, having located them through the directory. Time healed old wounds, and by the time I was born everything was peachy. On the Dizon side, Mom spent some time at Grandpa’s while Manny was making connections in New York to begin his pro boxing career. They fought like tigers for a few months but soon developed an unbreakable bond that would last until Grandpa passed away in 1978.
 
(To be continued...)
 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Depression Daze?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)
 
           The Depression never really hit the Sanders ranch since they were already living a self-sustaining lifestyle. Grandpa hired cowboys to bring his cattle to market, and they had livestock in the barns and vegetable gardens near the house that supplied fresh produce and dairy products as well as poultry. And, of course, there was always more than enough beef and pork to go around. The girls grew up around cowboys and were rough-and-tumble tomboys who, according to Mom’s account, could ride like the wind.

            Nora followed her daughters to an early grave due to an illness that she was unable to have treated properly. J.D. Sanders was unable to recover from depression and eventually lost the ranch. Marian, nicknamed Cottontop, then Sandy (because of her platinum hair which eventually turned auburn), was shuttled off between her married sisters until she was old enough to fend for herself. By her teens, she was a spitfire who learned to drive cars with the breakneck speed and daring of her days as a horseback rider. She developed a severe case of wanderlust and often drove back and forth between her sisters’ homes, Frank Pilcher in Arizona, Marge Abbott in Fort Worth, Texas and Jim Tibbetts in Colorado. She thought nothing of crossing the border into Mexico or going as far west as California. I’m pretty sure I inherited that road warrior spirit from her as well.

            As the Dizon family made it through the Depression, Dolfo became a reclusive bookworm who would one day make history as a nuclear physicist at NASA. After a messy divorce, he made ends meet as a deputy sheriff and was again part of a historic Texas episode during a shootout with Mexican cartel drug lord Jose Carrasco. Back in the day, however, he gave place in grade school to Manny and Daniel, who had been getting boxing lessons from their Uncle Butch. Ed Welk, a pro boxer, (a distant relative of Lawrence Welk) married Stella’s sister Charlotte and spent lots of time with the boys, Manny being his favorite. Manny took his fair share of lumps from Butch but, along with Daniel, put away every school bully they faced during their early years. Freddie would try and fail to follow his brothers’ footsteps but would go on to a career in the Marines as a drill instructor. Now you can surmise how I got to be such a hard case.

The clan was stunned by the loss of Stella, who died of uremic poisoning in her mid-twenties. Grandpa was left to raise the boys, and Manny stepped up as big brother in helping raise Freddie. Manny was an excellent student who made the National Honor Society alongside Dolfo on a regular basis. After school, he and Daniel began training at the Alamo Street Boxing Club on East Houston Street and soon became Golden Gloves standouts. Manny was one of those people who excelled both academically and athletically, and was also quite the ladies’ man, like his Dad.
 
(To be continued...)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Four Brothers/Five Sisters?

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


            Stella Munoz was one of five daughters of Beatrice and Eduardo   Munoz, who migrated to northern Mexico from Barcelona after the Spanish-American War along with their seven children. The marriage disintegrated shortly after their arrival and Beatrice somehow made ends meet until the children reached their teens. John and Pete acquired a reputation on the streets of Laredo as knife fighters and hard cases. They eventually made enough connections to make their way to San Antonio, sending for their sisters in time. Most people managed to steer clear of the Munoz Brothers and were very cautious when courting the sisters. Teodulfo met up with Stella and, after a traditional courtship, the couple grew impatient and eloped to Austin.


            When the smoke cleared, the Dizons returned to San Antonio and bought a frame house at 116 Can’t Stop (the street name was listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not during the 20’s). Stella gave birth to four sons, Teodulfo Jr., Manuel, Daniel and Frederick. Manny was about nine years old when the Depression hit. Stella’s sister Beatrice, her husband Gilbert Perez and their nine children moved in next door, and Grandpa often found himself the only breadwinner among two households of seventeen people. I’m pretty sure his American dream darkened at times as he relied on a bicycle to make it five miles to work at Fort Sam Houston. Still, no one went hungry though things got pretty dire at the Munoz home from time to time, as my cousins would tell me over a half-century later.


            Unfortunately there’s not a lot of background that was made available to me on John Sanders, a strapping, two-fisted cattle man who carved out a 100-acre ranch in the wilds of an extinct town called Bangs, Texas. He began wooing a local girl named Nora Brooks, whose father was one of the original settlers of the town. Nora, by all accounts, was a lovely, petite woman who stood a shade above five feet tall. They got married, built their home and raised a family on the Sanders Ranch. Try as he might, Big John gave up trying to have a son after seven daughters. The eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Dora, died of illness in the wilderness community. Three of the survivors, Brooks, Frank and Jim, were named thusly by a frustrated man desperately wishing for a male child. Marge and Marian, my Mom, lucked out.           



(To be continued...)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

In The Beginning?

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


            My first lifetime started on Butler Street in November of 19__ as the pride and joy of Manny and Sandy Dizon. Manny was a pro boxer who became a neighborhood icon thanks to the advent of television in homes throughout the country. He settled into a job with the Coast Guard once his boxing days were over and found an apartment where we lived until the mid-60’s after my sister Lea was born.

            My grandparents, only one of whom I ever met, had the necessary credentials to produce two such offspring who, in turn, spawned an individual such as yours truly. Teodulfo Dizon was born to a captain of the Spanish Army and his wife who were stationed on the Philippine Islands at the turn of the century. After the collapse of the garrison during the Spanish-American War, my great-grandparents chose to remain in their home in the city of San Pedro. While attending grade school, Teodulfo took on work as a houseboy at the local US military base which had replaced the Spanish garrison.

            In my novel Generations II (unpublished as of this writing), I portrayed Grandpa as a card-playing, womanizing slickster, which was not very far from the truth. He was unquestionably a cunning opportunist. He made a strong connection with Colonel Sibley and his family, and when they got reassigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, they offered to take him to America and he didn’t think twice. When I went to visit him in 1973, he was teary-eyed with regret that he never saw his family again. Regardless, when he got to San Antonio he became a prominent figure within the Filipino community, having known most of those who migrated there. He had the foresight to organize a social group, the Filipino-American Society, which named him as their president. The Texas Heritage Society in San Antonio features my Grandpa in their downtown museum to this day.
 
(To be continued...)
 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Is That All There Is?

(Excerpted from SUPERSTAR: Life and Times of an Underground Rock and Wrestling Icon)
 
Is that all there is?

That may have been one of the questions I asked myself three and a half years after that fateful day during the summer of 1981. I was standing on a flatbed stage overlooking a sea of faces at the Court Street Carnevale, the scene of the Ducky Boys’ greatest victory a year earlier. Back in June of 1980, we were the self-proclaimed South Brooklyn Heavy Metal Champions, styling and profiling before over two thousand fans, at the peak of our careers. This time around, it was different.

            Last year’s show, sponsored by the local music store, featured the Boys as the main event. This year I had envisioned a Punkfest sponsored by Miguel’s Hair Salon featuring three other punk bands beside us. The music store was far more adept in managing the event than I was and it turned into a comedy of errors, in a series which resulted in the end of the Ducky Boys and my departure from NYC.

             One of my ‘rivals’, Tumbleweed (AKA Malcolm Tent), deliberately stretched his thirty-minute set to nearly an hour which, combined with the delays and setbacks on that dismal day, cut our own performance time to about ten minutes! The flatbed was surrounded by the NYPD as I took the stage and launched into “Bloody Sunday”, our best new song which was developed too late to make our recently released EP. Ironically, we were set up right across the street from O’Beirne’s Pub on Court and Wyckoff in Cobble Hill, an Irish pub which helped inspire the spirit of rebellion behind the tune.

            I sang my heart out and posed for some memorable photos, but when it was over… well, so was the Carnevale. Our guitarist, Al Catraz, desperately launched into “Hooked on Junk”, our hardcore finale, but I had barely gotten out the first line when one of the cops literally pulled the plug on the show, the amps dying out in unison as drummer Eddie Havoc flailed away.

            Eddie quit right after the show, something he had plotted long before that afternoon. He thought it would break our backs but we survived until 1982, and I floundered until 1984 when I went into self-exile, hoping that the Lord would resurrect my dreams and allow me to return victorious to the ‘Invisible Empire’ I had left behind.
 
(To be continued...)
 
 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Last Hurrah?

Been a while, huh?

Inasmuch as the band's been on life support since September 2012 and the KC music scene's been just as dead, I figured I'd try something else. To elaborate, the Newsroom closed its doors last year and resurrected or some weird tribute to the Missouri Tigers - Black and Gold Tavern or some other dorkass name. John Tierney's still there, but the last time I saw him he grew a white goatee and seemed happy to still have a job. He gave us his number to call for an audition (!) but Terri never called back.

It seems almost as if the zombie craze has been one of God's little jokes reminding us what the world's coming to. I drove by a boarded-up Thriftway in Raymore the other day, and kids had spraypainted in giant letters: DO NOT OPEN! DEAD INSIDE! How apropos. For sure, the walkers have taken over the music industry as well as the consumer market. I think of all the people who came up to us after Newsroom shows, telling us how great we were and how KC desperately needed a band like us. Most of them never came back. Probably had their brains eaten by zombies.


I'm semi-retired now, trying to hawk my literary wares under my Christian name. Since the biography isn't getting any bites, I'm going to post it page-by-page right here with time remaining. I'll let you know if I get a deal for it, and if I suddenly stop posting again well...rest assured Broadway Turk Superstar has passed into history.

This should be a fun read, so...stay tuned!