The ones who really got away were the twins, Laura and Terri La Rocca. They were friends of Lea’s and followed me around like groupies around that time, but they were skinny dorks so I never paid them much mind. One time, another girl named Andrea who was chasing after me beat them up, and they quit coming around. I played hockey with their brother for a time but lost sight of them. It wasn’t until years later when I was with Luna that I came across Laura on Wyckoff Street. Let me tell you, she was a stunner! She kinda looked down her nose at Luna, and, of course, I never saw her again.
I could probably go on for half this book about those I’ve loved and lost, but what it boils down to is, had I gotten married, bought a home and had a family, I would have never been able to do the things that this story is all about. They say family is often a hostage to fortune, and in most cases, it certainly has been. Benny Rock was the first casualty, his two girls putting him out of the music business. Of course, it’s impossible to compare the value of a family to that of life accomplishments, it’s all apples and oranges. There has been many a day when I think of what might have been, having children, but when you finish reading this tale, you may understand the tradeoff from my viewpoint.
Anyway, the rite of passage into puberty had an enormous physical effect on me. Suddenly I went from a 98-pound weakling into a growing 120-pound boy, and there was a lot of shit I was no longer taking from different people in the ‘hood. I also found myself able to run faster and for longer distances than I could before. I got myself a black three-speed bike, and began developing my legs by riding around all day during summer vacation. I also began taking some of the neighborhood girls for long rides as they sat on the crossbar. What was really crazy about that was that I never tried putting moves on any of them. I was just enjoying the company and the exercise, and it all made me faster and stronger than ever.
Right about that time I started messing with Manny’s typewriter, and I started spending more and more time translating my fantasies into print rather than acting them out with my toy soldiers. My first work was “Enemy Ace”, a terribly-written novella about an ex-Nazi pilot turned CIA agent. After that I wrote a full-length novel about the fellow, a Fritz Von Hammermeister (!) which I recall being rather good. I followed that up with a futuristic novel about a reactionary takeover of the government which resulted in World War III and an American defeat.
What happened next was pretty funny, though a sad reflection of my early relationship with Manny. I sent in a coupon for a home course in creative writing, and a school rep came out for an interview. Mom recalls Manny spending the entire interview bragging to the man about his accomplishments, as if none of it had anything to do with me! Actually, I would find this to be a common trait among writers. When James Berry, a sci-fi writer who rented an apartment from the Yodels, began giving me tips on the writing business, I could not force myself to read the first chapter of his newly-published manuscript. Alternately, he read another story of mine, “Angie and the Jets”, and gave me some contact numbers, but did nothing to help beyond that. To their credit, Mom and Al Catraz were two of my most avid readers, as were Debbie Lara and Terri Thunders. Manny said he would read one of my books when it got published; as it turned out, I had “Tiara” printed just before he went to his grave.
We had a unique relationship which evolved along a rocky road though eventually ripening with age. Manny had no reliable frame of reference when it came to fathering and raising a family. His Dad was lord and master, his Mom a young girl trying to adjust to a new culture with four boys to raise, his relatives all caught in similar predicaments. He found out early in life that the common denominator on the streets was violence and that he could make his mark with his fists, but to his credit he focused on developing his mind.
He was a paradox in many ways. Mom used to confide in me that she was smarter than he was, and I think she was referring to common sense. He was extremely articulate and set my course towards an English degree by referring me to the dictionary every time I had a question about a word. Yet he would call someone out (at least in his middle age) at the drop of a hat rather than use his extensive diplomatic skills during an argument. He loved me as a son but maintained a distance from me until I was in my late teens. He did little to encourage my athletic career and was strict about alcohol abuse, but we did not become close until I was old enough to drink at the bar with him. At that point, I was able to get him to open up and find out who he really was.
(To be continued...)