Thursday, November 28, 2013

BSWC Begins?

Eventually Mom bought a weight set, a tarpaulin, four 4x4 posts and some clothesline during the winter of ‘67, and we went about constructing the trappings of the Butler Street Wrestling Club. Georgie, the psychologically stronger yet younger brother, was out chasing girls while Kenny and I plotted to usurp his position as BSWC champion. When John and Harold Yodels helped form our new clique, George was on his way to Puerto Rico around the Summer of ’67 and the rest of us were left to determine a new champ. By this time, Kenny was following George’s lead as neighborhood Romeo and was reluctant to test himself against John on a mat-covered dirt floor. John and Harold mauled each other for almost an hour on our debut card before Harold conceded the bout, and John became the new champ.

The next show was a baptism of fire from which I took my first step on the road to wrestling superstardom. We managed to sell tickets at five cents apiece, and who should end up in the front row of wooden chairs but my old pals, the Colander brothers! The main event was scheduled to be John vs. Kenny for the championship, but Kenny volunteered to act as referee for my match with Harold. After Harold mauled me for the better part of an hour to no avail, Kenny called the match a draw and declined to participate any further.

The match with Harold was a major turning point of my wrestling career. It consisted of him trying to hit me with a knee thrust and slam my head into a ringpost, drawing a warning from Manny that the show was over if that were to happen. I managed only one takedown during the bout, and we were broken up as Harold easily made the ropes in the miniscule ring. It was the most humiliating experience of my career at that point, topped off by the heckling of the Colanders throughout. Harold was surprisingly humble after the match though letting everyone know later that he had the upper hand. I decided then and there that the pecking order would soon change.

My friendship with the Yodels was predicated on the rivalry between John and Harold. They would use me as leverage against one another, and when one made peace with me the other would turn on me. After the match with Harold, he joined forces with Kenny against John and I. It was all badmouth, talking trash against one another, mostly a competition between John and Kenny. During this time, I really began learning how to wrestle as John and I spent most of our time tussling wherever we could.

He delighted in the fact that I was developing the strength and skill to compete with him, even though he outweighed me by over fifty pounds. I was learning to copy holds from the pros and could now employ leg takedowns and armlocks to gain ground position over him. I was also channeling off the Sheik, the legendary Detroit kingpin who recently came to the WWF to challenge Bruno Sammartino. When John would ambush me on the street, I would try and bounce his head off every surface nearby. By this time he and Harold made the peace and the three of us reunited. I was beyond the point where Harold could bully me anymore, though he tried at every opportunity.

By 1968, I had come out of my shell, and John and I had a reputation for being rowdies upon graduation. Unfortunately, his family problems combined with teenage angst to cause major changes in his personality, and he started seeing me as a major rival in his plans to rule Butler Street in the void left by the Butler Aces. It was like a constant triple threat match between John, Harold and I, and soon John formed alliances with the borderline delinquents in the neighborhood to move along the pecking order. I stuck to my sports fantasies and it put me on the road to one of my biggest personal achievements: nearly twenty years later, Broadway Turk Superstar would make his pro wrestling debut.

            As with all adolescents, my life began taking some major twists and turns after graduating 8th grade and leaving St. Paul’s School for Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. I never dreamed that, in a short space of two years, my circle of friends would change completely, my personal image would undergo a series of dramatic overhauls, and even my religious life would be transformed. 

(To be continued...)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sibling Rivalry - The Beginning?

I was still fascinated by pro wrestling, and my dream was to be a wrestler one day. At first my Mom tried to talk me out of it, telling me that her family in Texas saw wrestling as some kind of carnival freak show. My rebuttal was that Manny had been a boxer, and she left it at that because, indeed, she and Manny and her family had fought along that road before. I sold the idea to Kenny and Georgie, who were always fighting anyway, and we declared the Butler Street Wrestling Club. Georgie, who always got the best of Kenny, was the champ, Kenny was the top contender, and  I was Number Three. Poor Mark Roman ended up the bottom man. Jesus, Mickey Reyes and the Orlando Brothers didn’t even rank, they were declared midgets!  Of course, when the Yodels came along, things changed dramatically. Until then, I enjoyed my spot behind the fearsome Reyes brothers.

Historically, the first BSWC champion was…my Mom! She had been tussling with me since I was a weeun and somehow or other Kenny and Georgie got in on the act, and at that point of time she was literally scrubbing the floor with us. Only her drinking and our maturing eventually brought those days to an end. One night she had been on the sauce and we were scuffling, and to her chagrin, I got the best of her! I was elated that I had reached such a pinnacle but made nothing of it. She, however, harbored resentment that smoldered until that Christmas holiday.

Manny used to paint the windows with Christmas displays every year (a tradition Lea continued to the next generation), and one night she was sipping and brooding in the front window, well-hidden from view. I was in front of the house amidst a ruckus with Georgie and called him a bastard at the top of my lungs as he trotted off. My Mom saw the opportunity to call me inside and throw me a solid beating with her fisticuffs. I squirted a few tears to placate her but contemplated the unreasonable severity of the attack for years later. It took me a few decades to realize it was all about having bested her at wrestling, and she just needed to reestablish her physical dominance over her upstart son.

The first piledriver I ever gave out was to my sister. Mom had bought me a couple of flimsy exercise mats when I told her I wanted to put a wrestling set-up together. Actually I don’t think it was her choice, it was just we were both clueless. Anyway, I was anxious to put them to use and invited Lea to the vacant apartment downstairs (that I would rent years later) where I would teach her to wrestle. Determined to find out how well the padding worked, I announced that the first maneuver we would practice was the piledriver. Well, I executed it perfectly (as described in a Wrestling World article on Killer Buddy Austin), then stepped back to evaluate the results of the experiment (after a loud bang resulting from her head hitting the floor). She was motionless for a few tense moments, then slowly arose to a seated position like the Undertaker. I anxiously asked if she was okay (fearing certain comeuppance from Mom), then graciously excused her from the rest of the class.

My sister and I would have a weird relationship until our final split in 2004. During her pre-pubescence she became the neighborhood flirt, largely because of the lack of male affection in the family (Manny later confessed in his senior years that he was always fearful of someone accusing him of abuse). I ratted her out at every opportunity, mostly because she was doing her thing down around Smith Street with blacks and latinos. It wasn’t until she hit her teens that I was able to tolerate her life choices, and by the time she left NYC to attend the University of New Mexico at Portales, we had become close. We had our ups and downs after she got married, but I never anticipated the Butler Street Screw Job of 2004 which I’ll go into later.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bringing Up Father?

Manny joined the Veteran Boxers’ Association a couple of years later, and that was another memorable experience. The president of their chapter was Paul Berlenbach, who has his place in history as one of the only athletes to hold amateur titles in both boxing and wrestling. He was the sports idol of one of the heirs to the Ruppert brewing company fortune, which set him up with a trust fund for his lifetime. He even named his toy bulldog Ruppert!  Paul was kind of punchy by that time, but was a kind man who treated us like gold and loved Manny. The VBA also held annual dances, which were like stepping into a time capsule back to the early 20th century. Everyone dressed formal and they played ballroom dance music all night. There were also unlimited supplies of beer kegs, which I greatly enjoyed. Manny was their emcee as well, and people lined up to compliment him after he delivered his speeches.

            Every now and again they sponsored amateur fights, and the rookies marveled at being able to hobnob with the legends of yesteryear. They would ask Manny to referee a fight now and again, and he enjoyed it as much as we did. He also refereed a few of our matches with the Butler Street Wrestling Club, and the guys loved having Manny doing the honors.

            The other organization was the 40/8 (their symbol being forty horses and eight wagons, reminiscent of the mode of transportation afforded American troops in WWI France). It was an elitist group within the Legion that was not officially recognized because of their by-law prohibiting non-whites from joining. The commanders of their posts were called the Chef de Gare, and Manny was elected to that position in his second year. Shortly afterward, they had their national convention which Manny and I attended. Back in the day, a Spaniard would have had a chance of a snowball in hell of earning the Chef spot. After a few drinks, Manny made the rounds at the four-star hotel we were at, making one and all of the conventioneers well aware of the fact!

            Manny and I bonded during that time, and though we did not see eye-to-eye quite often over the decades, in his golden years he finally realized how much I truly cherished him. I made him feel like it was Christmas every time I visited NYC, and I only wished one of my ships would have come in time to have given him so much more.

            Back in grade school, we weren’t quite that close because we were always trying to understand each other. He saw all my faults as the result of being spoiled by Mom. Conversely, I thought his problem was having been bullied by his Dad throughout his childhood. I figured he just didn’t know how to relate to kids. Having a hard ass as a father wasn’t the worst thing, I figured. He was still the toughest guy on the block, and that was something I was forever proud of. I was determined to live up to that legacy (not to mention Mom being the toughest woman in the ‘hood). Only I had a lot of toughening up to do, but I was looking forward to that as long as the ends justified the means.

            As you can see, major changes were taking shape in my life as I prepared myself for teenhood and my high school years. I would have no idea how drastic they would be, and I could never have dreamed that it would all become the prelude to the beginning of my lifelong journey as a rock and wrestling cult legend.

(To be continued...)