Actually my drinking started a tad early, and I was taking advantage of my privileges in attending Manny’s social functions to indulge myself. He held office in the American Legion, its elite 40/8 society, and the Veteran Boxers’ Association. My Mom used to accompany him at first but grew to loathe most of the bottom-feeding social climbers who attended regularly. She implored him to quit but he would not. What my Mom could not understand was that he had been a public figure most of his life and could not forsake the limelight. She hit the bottle pretty hard around that time, but I would not place the entire blame at Manny’s feet. It was a lifelong challenge for her which she never entirely overcame until a series of events left her forever bedridden in 1992.
He was a great public speaker and a diligent secretary, which secured his position as adjutant in all three organizations for life. They gave him the master of ceremonies spot at almost all of their functions, and he relished the attention. I think one problem may have been that Manny would have one too many drinks with his friends, then come home and act ignorant towards us. The truth was, he wasn’t much of a drinker, nowhere near as tolerant as Mom. They would go out and he would get polluted while she was still feeling fine. She would retaliate by getting shitfaced before an important event, and she would embarrass us no end. And so it went.
The American Legion’s Gowanus Memorial Post was a sociological neighborhood phenomenon. During the 60’s it was a powerhouse. They had parades during the springtime, annual dinners during the summer, and gave out Christmas baskets to needy families during the holidays. We loved going to the functions and took great joy in our father being prominent in the organization. The most fun was after the parades when they would rent out a Church hall and have a huge catered luncheon. We would see all the grownups in the neighborhood fellowshipping and letting their hair down, and it was quite a sight for us grade schoolers.
The Legionnaires always said that they hoped that the organization would die of attrition in that there would be no more wars. Unfortunately, there was Korea, then Vietnam, but the Gowanus post was not quite ready for the new batch of vets joining the fold. There were a few young guys just back from Vietnam who signed up and were hoping to bring a breath of fresh air to the post. The older WWII vets from the ‘hood were not quite ready for that, so they got their wish as the post finally closed its doors at the end of the century.
It seems that one can trace most of their bad habits back to their elders, which is why I stress that the parent should always lead by example. Manny would let me accompany him to the post to drop off his correspondence or pick up stationery, and invariably we would walk in on a poker game in process. John Lagana was a wannabe wiseguy who generally ran the games, and he would swear a blue streak from beginning to end. There was always a lot of green on the table, so they definitely weren’t playing penny poker. At that tender age, I whined to Manny that the language hurt my ears. Manny kind of blew it off, stating it was the guys’ night out, or words to that effect. When I think of the extraordinarily foul vocabulary I developed over the years, I would have to say that my subconscious may have registered the fact that this was how real men talked around each other.
(To be continued...)