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 naïve 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...)