I would have to say that it was a turning point in my life. It was a serious wreck at the crossroads between fantasy and reality, and made me consider the fact that trying to bridge the gap could be a dangerous thing, Nonetheless, I would spend the rest of my life creating illusions that challenged others to think outside the box, to transcend the restrictions that society imposed on their self-perception and potential in life. I would take every kid in the neighborhood that could pick up a hockey stick, carry a football or throw a punch and turn them into a player, no matter what their ability level. I have little doubt that almost every kid in our universe can look back and remember his day in the sun as an athlete on Butler Street.
Things continued the same way with both the Spoiler and the Ducky Boys. When I christened my living room the Surrealistic Death in ’72, I told Alma that it was going to be a haven for every musician, music lover, social reject and substance abuser in the neighborhood. As it turned out, it was an accurate prophecy on my part. We got people from all walks of life to stop by at one point or other, and no one was turned out without reason. Everyone got along in that small apartment, and when I knocked the wall down to turn the two small rooms into a bigger one, it made for more the merrier.
This is not to say that people were on the Love Boat when they came into our inner circle. I was a notorious ribber all the way up until the Ducky Boys, and even then Zing and I gave the younger fellows hell after a few drinks. Most of it was in fun, and two of my prime targets, Richie Aceto and Danny O’Connor, used to laugh their butts off at my insults. Some fellows, like Louie Cazucci and Al Catraz, didn’t take the insults well, and we eventually laid off the thin-skinned types rather than have them leave the group.
The Yodels were big-time ribbers, but more often than not their ribs got vicious and sometimes led to fights. When they got together with the Butler Aces, people like Dilapidated Joe were reduced to tears. Most of the on-premises ribs at the Yodels home was fairly well controlled by their Mom Ginny, but what she did not see on the street was of no concern. For a time, the Yodels home was the prototype for the Surrealistic Death. When Nick left home, they declared open house, and everyone in the neighborhood hung out there. I had some of my most memorable times there, but when John turned against me I never went back.
The neighborhood continued to change as people moved out and new families moved in. The Figueroas proved to have just as much of an impact on my world as the Rock family would have nearly a decade later. Jesus Figueroa was a little kid, a couple of years younger, who had more street-smarts than most of the Butler Aces. He and I made friends on Day One after he had just moved next door that Spring of ’67 and was brandishing a set of boxing gloves, inviting me over to spar. Holding tight to my precarious position on the neighborhood food chain, I was able to bully him in short order. Afterwards he became a diversion from the tumultuous camaraderie of the Yodels, the psychodrama of the Reyes boys and the prepube playground with Mark.
It was always funny to see how political things got between siblings from different families. Jesus would taunt the Yodels, particularly Harold, mercilessly. Harold would start to make a move against Jesus, who ran straight to his big brother Ernie for backup. This would force Harold to run to Bobby, and the two older brothers would sort things out quite amicably. I saw this scenario replay a couple of years later when Paulie Yodels ran afoul of Izzy Galvan, who gave him a thumping. This brought a bemused Israel to a meetup with John and Harold, Israel without a clue as to why he was being involved.
Jesus’ Dad, Guillermo, was the janitor of the Cobble Hill Theatre on the corner, and he would let us in at night to watch movies. I also got a kick out of hanging with Jesus because he was so mischievous. He would watch and wait until pedestrians flicked their cigarettes into the gutter, then eagerly spring out and retrieve the butts to toke on. Once, on New Year’s Day, some psychopath had killed two German Shepherds and dumped their carcasses on the corner of Butler and Smith, having cut the heads off one of them. Jesus put the head in a bucket and toted it up to Butler and Court, dumping it on the corner where it caused quite an outcry along the middle-class community. Another time we came across a sleeping drunk playing a radio, and Jesus tested him by turning off the radio, to which he did not respond. Jesus snuck off with the radio, and we took it to Greenwich Village and sold it for about ten bucks. We had quite a time for two underage kids coming into that kind of money. The most I’d ever gotten for an allowance, even as a teenager, was five bucks!
Jesus had three cute sisters who taught us all about the birds and bees. Migdalia was a beautiful girl with an hourglass figure and a lovely face. Her sisters Miriam and Yolanda were big girls, though at that age we didn’t give a damn. Actually, as you’ll see later, I had a bit to do with BBW’s in later years, so what goes around comes around. Anyway, instead of hiding in doorways playing hide and seek, we were now necking at every opportunity. Mark’s cousin Myrna got in on the act, though no one ever got to play with Migdalia. She was the oldest, and she had a boyfriend named Morocho who would’ve handed our asses to us for trespassing. Kenny, Georgie and I were the beneficiaries of this rite of passage as the Yodels were not quite up to such things at that point in time.
John and I used to talk a great deal about the girls at school, though we never had the guts to do a thing about it. Of all the girls, Angela Vacirca and Juana Lugo were truly stunners, though both pretty slow on the scholastic side. Angela had a cousin named Angelo who was a vicious bastard, so no one came onto her. John had a thing for Juana, and though he got quite friendly with her, he never broached the subject of a date. I hung out with a couple of girls, Joann Mulhan and Jeanette DeArce, and things didn’t go too far as I was as dorky as they were. When I saw them years later in the ‘hood, I was astounded as to how they had developed into knockouts, but it was well before my day as a ladies’ man so that was that.
(To be comtinued...)