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...)