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...)