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...)