Saturday, December 21, 2013

Manny and the Mob?

Manny was always hobnobbing with Mob guys, all because of his rep as a 50’s boxing star. Mimi London, a capo with the Colombo Family, gave me a red-marked silver dollar as a child, which I was to return after my eighteenth birthday. Unfortunately, one of Lea Shithead’s druggie friends robbed Manny’s and snatched the coin, so there went my chances to join the Mob. Another big name was Toddo Marino, who owned a restaurant in Bay Ridge and loved having Manny and his friends from the Veteran Boxers’ Association come by. I didn’t think much of it until he was shown on the Gambino family tree in the HBO movie, Gotti, during the 90’s. Two others who would be seen around the Mafia bar, Angelo’s, where my parents hung out on Court Street were Crazy Joe Gallo and Tony Anastasia, the kid brother of the Mad Hatter, Gambino overlord Albert Anastasia. Talk about a lively neighborhood!

Years later, after Crazy Joe was assassinated outside of Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy in Manhattan, they came out with a movie of the same name that rekindled my fascination with the Mob. Jerome Browne and I decided to wander down President Street while making our rounds carousing one Friday night after work. We took in the sights sometime around midnight, deep in Gallo territory near Columbia Street. We didn’t see any gang activity, Mafia or otherwise. What was most noticeable was an enormous searchlight (the kind you see in prison movies) perched atop one of the tenement roofs, its beam aimed discreetly out into space until needed. It remained as a testament to the vicious Colombo drive-bys that occurred during their internecine gang wars of the 60’s.

I never had any real aspirations to get connected, though I did play the role more than a few times in my life. The reason was that the three types of people who get the most respect in public, even more than businessmen, politicians or actors, are wiseguys, pro wrestlers and rock stars. It’s not the reason why I got into rock or wrestling, but it may help explain why I gravitated towards those industries. Plain and simple, those kinds of people are larger than life, and most of the time, take big risks to get where they are. Some dedicate their whole lives to those vocations, like yours truly. I would never have sworn myself over to a criminal life, but I’ve never gotten upset by anyone mistaking me for that type.

At any rate, I had no idea how quickly my early sports career would flash before my eyes. Most of it was due to the fact there were no organized sports teams in the area, and I was turning into the proverbial kingfish in the goldfish pond. There were only a couple of high school football teams back then, and at 5’9”, 147 pounds, I didn’t stand a chance even if I’d gotten a shot. There was no hockey whatsoever, and Bishop Loughlin discontinued its roller hockey program right at the time I had mastered the game. Neither were there any wrestling or martial arts programs other than the judo team, which didn’t hold my interest me at the time. Sadly, the doors kept closing in my face in the sports world, and it wasn’t until I reached my thirties until the opportunities began appearing.

Another problem was the lack of competition, even in the neighborhood, after the Yodels left. I was getting stronger and faster, and the other kids either couldn’t keep up or had put sports well behind them as their lives moved into the fast lane of sex and drugs. Things were slowing down athletically and I began spending more time by myself, reading and working on my manuscripts. Actually it was a point in time where I began developing my writing skills, leading to a lifelong writing career which produced this book and four others before it. Outside of my musical endeavors, I would consider this my most positive contribution to our American society and culture.

During the hiatus, I began hanging out again with Mark, who introduced me to his new neighbor Louie and his brothers. The Matos Family moved into 263 Court Street upstairs from Mark, and they began to have a three-dimensional impact on my life. Anibal (“Papo”) was the oldest, a studious introspective type who had a romance with Lea that inspired our friendship. Funnily enough, it was her latino romances that led to a number of strong friendships that also gave me insight into the Puerto Rican community and lifestyle. The middle brother, Luis (“Afro”), was the real Latin lover of the family and grew to be one of my biggest rivals on Butler Street. He threw in with Kenny Reyes, and I have a strong feeling that Kenny had a lot to do with the rivalry. The youngest brother, Peter, was a peripheral figure due to his age but fooled around for a short while with our street hockey scrimmages and even played a couple of football games with the Jets. Upon reaching adulthood, he turned into a capable fighter who forced me into my bag of tricks to come up with a martial arts win against him years later.

Kenny Reyes’ social development was, in retrospect, quite an interesting study. He began embracing the Latino lifestyle and built his own little counterculture along the periphery of my budding sports clique. He began working in Manhattan and was soon able to afford the best in Latino finery: knit shirts, plaid pants and highly-buffed, pointy-toed shoes. Luis’ Dad was an amateur salsa musician who let the boys fool with his percussion instruments, and soon they became the only band on the block before the advent of the Spoiler Empire. Kenny grew to be a heavyweight, and taking him on physically was generally considered a suicidal notion. Yet there was a lot of insecurity about him, as with most bullies. Besides having no education in having ditched school, he was also beleaguered by premature hair loss that got to him about the same time as Lea Shithead. I myself would be fighting the same battle just a few years later.

(To Be Continued...)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Broadway Joe and Derek the Turk?

It was another Manny-centric moment that turned hockey into one of the great loves of my life. He refused to let me watch wrestling one Saturday in the Spring of ’68, and Mom told me I could have the TV after his ball game ended. Crestfallen and spiteful, I switched on Channel 9 regardless and sat sulking as the New York Rangers game commenced. As time elapsed, I found myself mesmerized by the quick skating, the intricate plays, the hard hitting and the booming puck that dominated the game. I began asking Manny so many questions that he bought me a book on ice hockey which I kept all the way until Lea and her daughter Tasha threw out or sold all my books on Butler Street in 2009.

I idolized the New York Rangers from the very beginning. They got kicked out of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in four straight games but it didn’t stop me from doing my homework over the next three months of summer before next season. I went up to Madison Square Garden and bought a Rangers puck and a yearbook which became lifelong treasures that were also lost during the Hyatts’ spring cleaning of 2009. After that I began going to Gramercy Park, which was closer, and became a regular customer all the way until my last days of street hockey in NYC around 1976, nearly seven years later.

Even though I was a diehard Ranger fan, I could not help but admire the Boston Bruins after a time. The Big Bad Bruins were the terror of the league, a reputation they would carry until the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers, began taking it to them a few years later. The problem with the Rangers was that they couldn’t back themselves up. They had a couple of tough guys who didn’t take shit, but not enough of them. Not only that, but top-scoring center Jean Ratelle and All-Star defenseman Brad Park just weren’t in the same league as Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

The one fellow that no one had a match for was Derek “Turk” Sanderson. He was a bad-ass street punk from Canada whose reputation as a fighter overshadowed his skill as a center, one of the best face-off men in the game. He was the fashion plate of the NHL and hung out with my football hero, Broadway Joe Namath. I was like every other fan in NYC wishing him a slow death in the late 60’s, but in time both he and Namath became the role models that gave birth to Broadway Turk Superstar.

It didn’t take me long to start my own hockey team, the Butler Street Blues. I spray-painted a rink between manhole covers and even fashioned a St. Louis Blues-like logo at mid-field. Harold and Paul Yodels were the mainstays, and we also had puny Johnny De Losa on defense, who would play a role in the formation of the Spoiler almost seven years later. We played street hockey until the dog days of Summer ’68, then took a break until that fall to resume operations. During that time, Harold became a much better player and actually beat me for the scoring championship and team record in ‘69, exceeding my spring total by one goal! I recounted my stat book dozens of times to reach the same sorry conclusion.   

When it got too hot to play, we sat around on the steps of homes in the neighborhood sipping sodas and ribbing one another. Paulie was one of my main stooges, and he, in turn lorded it over Danny O’Connor, the dreaded O’Connors’ younger brother, and Richie Aceto, who would become one of Osama Bin Laden’s victims in the World Trade Center over thirty years later. The age difference was too great between us, and I began spending less and less time with the stooges as the summer crept along.

Paulie was the last of the Yodels that I had a good friendship with. He was about Lea’s age and loved playing my homemade board games. He was always the brunt of my ribs and took it out on the kids his age, as I mentioned. I never fully realized that he had probably the most explosive temper of all the Yodels, and my ribbing really took a toll on him. Nevertheless, he became the goalie for the Blues and did a pretty good job in net for us. After the Yodels moved away, he came to visit one last time but apparently he had outgrown his tolerance for my ribbing, and I never saw him again. I heard he went on to a good job as a sky marshal and grew into a two-fisted, pistol-packing son of a gun.                
One claim to fame that Harold and Paul would have was during Harry’s brief stint as a club owner in Queens. They bought a club on the Gambino Mob’s turf during the reign of John Gotti, who had a couple of the boys stop in to shake down the Yodels. Paulie took exception to that and got a bit of a hiding from the Gottis. I’m sure Paul has put it behind him by now, but I must admit I’m proud to know that one of my old friends stood up to the bastards.
(To be continued...)