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.