Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Better Half?

I took a couple of plane trips around this time, the first to visit my Grandpa in 1972 and then to visit my Aunt Marge in 1973. Visiting Teodulfo Dizon was quite an experience. He was still a strict, disciplined man though the years had mellowed him quite a bit. Matter of fact, I found him to resemble the Koreans I would meet three decades later in their characteristic inscrutability. Though he had left the Orient over sixty years ago, he still maintained its ways and style, as if clinging to the environment in which he was born and raised. It was also due to the military tradition in which he was steeped, from his childhood as a military brat to his time in American bases from San Pedro to Fort Sam Houston. Though he was a slender man weighing about 135, he was hard as a rock and had never missed a day of work in over fifty years.                          

It was a whirlwind week for me and I wish I had the maturity to have savored more time with him. I went out a few times with my cousin Linda, who had played roller derby in a local team before retiring due to a knee injury. She took me to a downtown gay bar (which were the height of fashion in the glitter rock era) and we drank it up with some of the best-known drag queens in town. I met my cousin Johnny, who Grandpa warned me about, but we hit it off and went out for an evening of pool and had a great time. I also went carousing with my cousin Lupe, who invited me to an after-work party that Friday and then to some local downtown spots. I would have never dreamed that I would relocate to San Antonio a decade later, and that Johnny, Lupe and I would become as the Three Musketeers as I built my new infrastructure.

Grandpa would eventually write down his memoirs in a short essay, which would become the foundation for my semi-biographical novel, Generations (as yet unpublished). He told me quite a bit about his life in San Pedro and confided in me in a manner that would have made the Four Brothers jealous. I wish I would have realized at the time that he was pouring his heart out to me in hoping I would be the keeper of his memory, which I certainly hope I am. I remember him cooking a delightful shrimp and rice entrée for dinner one evening, and can’t remember him serving up anything I didn’t like. That was a big difference from my first visit to SA as a weeun, as he and Mom got into a row over him trying to make me eat my first bowl of oatmeal!

I also found out he was a big wrestling fan. Unfortunately, he naturally cheered for the babyfaces, while I was overjoyed to see the Golden Greek, John Tolos on the tube as he tore up some jobber in short order. I imagine what he would have thought in watching his grandson as Broadway Turk Superstar using everything from chairs to ashtrays on opponents in the Texas Wrestling Association almost two decades later. Actually, he never saw one of Manny’s fights, most likely because he wouldn’t have been able to bear it. Grandma Stella, on the other hand, went to most of them.

His big thing was still poker, and on my last night he brought me to his friend’s home for their big weekly game. Linda and her friends had planned a big sendoff for me but there was no way I could refuse Grandpa. It was a penny-ante game and I got thoroughly shellacked. I’m a pretty good poker player, but in those games, they were calling almost a dozen wild cards per hand which reduced it to a game of chance rather than skill. This took away my bluffing game, which both Grandpa and our revered family friend Baron Sanders disdained. Grandpa never bluffed; Manny called Baron on a bluff one time and Baron’s face grew beet-red with embarrassment! At any rate, Broadway Turk wouldn’t make much of an impact as a poker player on that particular sojourn.

I found out just how ornery he was on the ride to the airport. We stopped off at a department store and I saw a hat similar to his fedora and wanted to buy it for him. He declined, but I insisted, and I was going to pick it out when he caught my wrist in his version of the Iron Claw. It was either twist free or relinquish, and my Grandpa won out. I should have mailed him one afterward, but, that’s a stupid kid for you. At any rate, it was one of the most cherished visits of my life. I wish the one a couple of years later with Manny had been more pleasant, but that was when worlds collided and the generation gap appeared as an earthquake in our relationship.

That next year I visited my Aunt Marge, and my relationship with the Sanders clan was on the decline soon afterwards though I wouldn’t realize it until years later. She considered herself the leader of the clan though my cousin Brooks’ wife Gloria confided in me that she feared her older sister Brooks (no misprint, quite a popular family name). She was initially pleased as punch to meet me again after over a decade, and I hit it off famously with her husband Vernon. I also got on well with Brooks and his family, and we were scheduled for a family get-together at his property on Lake Dallas. He had made his fortune in the construction business and was the clan’s only legitimate millionaire before going bankrupt in the 90’s.

Manny nearly gagged when I turned down a proposal from Brooks to join his firm as a representative with his South American field office during a visit with us at the Waldorf-Astoria a couple of years earlier. Of course, my head was full of fantasies of NHL or wrestling stardom, and I thought the world was an oyster before me. What I never understood was why Manny didn’t jump in as quickly as he did with the writing school rep a couple of years before that. He could have told Brooks that we needed time to reconsider, and even shipped my ass out with parental authority. Well, that was Manny for you. Brooks never reached out again, even when I was desperate for help with Mom at my side and my Year Zero EP in hand during our reunion visit in 1979.  

My fatal error came one afternoon after a long talk the previous evening in which I told her of recent family hassles due to my mother’s drinking problem. We planned lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, leaving me to my lonesome as she went to have her hair done. I sucked up a half-case while listening to the Velvet Underground on her room-to-room stereo, writing a ballad called “Patti” about kidnapped newspaper heiress Patti Hearst (which had long since been misplaced and forgotten). When she finally got back I could barely read it back to her. She probably thought me quite the hypocrite, but should have seen the underlying problems. Yet I think it was more of a question of trying to stuff the skeletons back into the family closet.

The problem with the nouveau riche is that they think their crap don’t stink when, actually, what they fear and despise most about others is what they see deep inside themselves. That holds true for most people as I found through my psychiatric studies. This is why they marginalized my Uncle Vernon, a fine man who overcame his drinking problem. They kept him forever in the background at our reunions, and I spent most of my time there with him. Not the best way to score brownies with the Sanders clan.

Payback time came in 1985 at the Hyatts’ wedding which was hosted at the Abbotts’ home in Fort Worth. I drove up with Debbie Von and we saw my parents emerging from a vehicle in front of the house just as they arrived from the airport. As it turned out, Mom was three sheets to the wind, Manny chalking it up to her fear of flying. This, of course, I discredited as a crock of shit as Mom had been an amateur pilot who had earned her wings in flight school back in the 40’s. She ranted and raved throughout the short evening as I did my best to refrain from laughing my ass off as Aunt Marge somehow maintained her composure.

There were a couple more reunions after that, a last hurrah at Lake Dallas in 1979 and a mini-reunion at the Hyatts in Cloudcroft in 1992. I was definitely the black sheep at Lake Dallas though they seemed more comfortable with the stylish wiseguy in the business suit in Cloudcroft. I drove up to Fort Worth with Bobby Bulldozer for Uncle Vernon’s funeral in 1992 a couple of months before the Hyatt reunion, and would have shown for Aunt Marge’s funeral a few years later if Lea Shithead had taken the time to notify me. We were on the outs by then after a spat between Duane and me at my first wedding in 1995, but I think it was more of a case of her wanting to sabotage my connection with the Sanders clan worse than it already was.

Money was always a case of sour grapes with her. She was never a hoarder or a tightwad, but she always loved being around those who had money, and wasn’t overly happy when her peers had more than she did. That was the main reason she stayed close to Brooks Abbott. His wife Gloria was a lovely woman and a great person but was highly suspicious of males in the clan, some of whom had come on to her more than a couple of times. Their son Clay was a great little kid but I suspect he went the way of Thumper Hyatt as he matured. I know that Brooks worshipped the kid and most likely brought him into the business, which bankrupted a few years later. Geez, I wonder why. At any rate, Brooks even had the Shitheads out to his resort home in Lake Tahoe a few times before he went under. I’ll bet they didn’t do much visiting after he lost everything.

(To be continued...)

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Surrealistic Death?

There was quite a cast of characters during my time at ISO. The Special Rating Unit was run by George Burkitt, a widower who had a rep for total distraction around the holidays (which was when he lost his wife). Ironically, he was a part-time hockey coach and tried to bring his rah-rah philosophy to work, which failed miserably among the motley crew that staffed his office. Fred Federer was his blue-collar supervisor who was also driven to distraction by Jerome and I, his juvenile delinquents. Most of the problem came after noon, when we returned from our liquid lunches. Lily Snyder was another widower and alcoholic who ran the Special Multi-Peril unit as her personal fiefdom. Her assistant, Sue Swingle, was a cute girl with a killer body whose boyfriend, John Ventrell, was a bigger asshole than Jerome and I. When he finally quit, everybody hoped to hook up with Sue but she aspired to do better after Ventrell, with Lily as Cerberus guarding her gates.

I could not mention this interlude in my life without giving due thanks to Captain Crunch, Lorrie Macoline. She thought of herself as a surrogate mother to me and Jerome, though more often than not she played the flunky. She came out drinking with us more than a few times, and sometimes we would bring along her would-be suitor, Phil Hellgott. Phil was an unkempt Jewish guy who had a terrible body odor that he claimed was caused by a skin disorder. We thought hygiene had a lot to do with it and teased him unmercifully for it, though he was a pretty good ribber himself. Another guy who hung with us at coffee break but never made the rounds was Nick Piccininni. He had a lot of charisma and had two particularly lovely Italian sisters coming by his desk on a regular basis though he was just recently married. Nick, Jerome and I would exchange vicious race-oriented ribs on a daily basis which were absolutely hilarious back then, but would have got us fired in this politically correct day and age.

One of those aforementioned sisters, Lillian, was a lovely girl with an incredible figure. She had long black hair and pale skin that made her look like a beautiful vampire. One of our pals, Florence Erdman, said she had Mick Jagger lips that made her look like a fish, though I disagreed. Florence was a widow who I think had an eye for me. She had great legs along with the face of a bulldog. Nevertheless, she decided to set me up with Lillian at the office Christmas party after a few drinks. I found myself riveted in my seat as she walked over without even looking back, and introduced Lillian to…the Invisible Man! Florence ribbed me soundly after that one, and I kicked myself over and over for that monumental screw-up. Chalk up another one to my insecurity and mortal terror of rejection, something that would follow me all the way until I reached Missouri at the end of my game of life.

Lorrie, as it turned out, was a spinster living with her parents who actually tossed almost every one of her paychecks directly into her savings account. She brown-bagged her lunch and dressed off the rack, and we could see her talking to herself when something pissed her off. She was quite a character, but she changed our lives considerably when she started giving us small loans which we never had to pay back. She took us out to some of the best restaurants for lunch now and again. Though it cost a pretty penny, I know she was in her glory going to places she would have never set foot in, with a couple of wiseguys who ensured the most obsequious service. Eventually she cut Jerome out of the deal but continued helping me out, which improved my quality of life immensely. I never really got to thank her for all the handouts, but I know that the Lord must have blessed her life tremendously for her selfless giving to His blissfully naive soldier.

I was extremely fortunate in having been able to exert my genius to the betterment of the department, which is why they kept me around for four years. I used my speed-reading ability to pore through insurance policies with ease (this was two decades before PC’s became everyday office items…microfiche, anyone?), plowed through basic math premium adjustments at light speed, and wrote detailed analyses of entanglements between brokers and rating bureaus across the country that we were empowered to resolve. It was all child’s play for one of my genius, but again I found in the world of business, where it’s not what you know but who you know. Nevertheless, I fought my way up the corporate ladder, making it to the level of Commercial Property/Casualty Underwriter before getting the ax in a power struggle at an insurance wasteland a decade later.

Another mainstay in my post-Jets/pre-Spoiler timeframe was Alma’s uncle. Mingo Alindato was Nery’s brother who had recently gone on hiatus from the Merchant Marines. His chronic alcoholism caused him to plummet from a respectable seaman to a useless drunk, and eventually sent him over the brink into premature senility. When he first came to Brooklyn, we hit it off immediately and became close drinking buddies. Unfortunately, I was too naïve to realize that such friendships are built on such flimsy foundations as to eventually prove insubstantial. He was an ex-boxer, which greatly enhanced his status in my eyes, and was a helluva pool player who got better the more he drank. Our friendship didn’t go sideways until sometime later when he drank the money he had said he would use to take our long-planned trip to Puerto Rico. We remained friends until he left NYC for Puerto Rico in the early 70’s, never having seen or heard me with the Spoiler. He passed away in the Spring of 2011 and he is fondly remembered by all who knew him.

About this time, our downstairs tenants decided to pull up stakes, and I asked Mom to rent the apartment to me. Manny was against it, figuring that he would lose money by losing my income as a household member even though he was going to be collecting rent off me from then on. I insisted, however, and eventually I became his downstairs tenant. Had he known what ungodly noise he would be enduring from that apartment for the next decade thereafter, I think he just might have second-guessed himself. Yet, when I asked Mom about it many years later, she said it brought her peace because she always knew exactly where we were.

Shortly after I moved downstairs, Lea showed up at the door one afternoon, and who was she with but George Reyes. George had changed so much since I last saw him I barely recognized him. He had matured into a tall, dark, handsome fellow replete with Christ-like hair, beard and mustache. We sat down over a case of beer, reminisced about the old days, speculated on the new, and before you knew it I had a new roommate.

One of the first things I did was paint the tiny living room black and decorated it with drawings and graffiti in Day-Glo. When I hooked up my black light, it was a prototypical hippie-like head room. I christened it the Surrealistic Death, and it became not only a favorite neighborhood hangout spot but eventually the Spoiler’s war room. Of course, that was two years ahead, and my father must have wondered what would become of his only son and his downstairs apartment in the meantime.

Along with Mingo and Alma, the four of us spent most of our time raising hell and having great times barhopping around the neighborhood. We rode with Alma’s dad Ramon for a time as we had over the past year (I’d pay for the beer and gas), but he and Georgie did not get along well. Georgie eventually bought a used car and we had a set of wheels with which to raise hell throughout the summer, so Ramon faded from the picture.

Not that I didn’t remain close to the Merceds, who became like a second family. Alma’s mom Nery was like a big sister to me. When I began visiting NYC after my move to TX, after I arrived at my parents’ home the first stop I made was Nery’s apartment. I always brought a bottle of wine, and those were the only times she ever indulged. She was an expert seamstress and made the wrestling cape I wore to the ring in Columbia Street I and II. She also made a fantastic pair of midnight blue leatherette jeans that I treasured for years though I had long since outgrown the size 30 waistline. She was always one of my biggest supporters up until she died of cancer in 1999. I have no doubt that she will be among those awaiting my arrival at the Pearly Gates when the Lord Jesus calls me home.

Ramon was always quite a character, and seeing him again when I visit NYC is like I’d left him just yesterday. He has a fantastic sense of humor and spends his time telling anecdotes about people in his life. Though he can be quite an earful to some, I find him hilarious and can listen to him all day. Back in the day, everyone in the Merced-Alindato clan eagerly looked forward to holidays as Nery and Ramon were the best cooks in the neighborhood bar none. Ramon also kept a large supply of alcohol on hand, and one attended a feast when visiting the Merceds on holiday.

Ray (who we called Junior for most of his life until he became a Dad with grownup kids) was a 98-pound weakling as a kid, resembling yours truly at the same stage of development. He grew up to be a ladies’ man with a great personality who acted as our head roadie for years until his personal life led him to turn the spot over to Richie Morales with the Ducky Boys in 1981. He was one of those people whose social network was all over the place, and he was always quick to help others and everyone liked him. He was a spunky kid who could handle himself and enjoyed exchanging ribs with me and Zing during the Spoiler-Ducky Boy era. Our relationship matured into brotherly love over the years and I’d give my life for him anyplace, anytime.

 Hector was a spoiled brat who the Jets nicknamed Naked Nick over his penchant for tearing off his clothes and running around the apartment buck naked during his Terrible Twos. As Nery’s child of her maturity, she let him get away with blue murder, unlike the stringent rules Alma and Ray were under. He grew up to become the neighborhood tough guy, building his rep over the years until he finally made his bones by beating BT Superstar in a hardcore match on Butler Street on November 19, 2004.  He got into a brawl on a Miami street in 2009 which he was nearly killed, and his injuries have left him as a BSWC paper champion. Ironically, he remains one of the last of the old crowd in Brooklyn along with Alma, Suli Rock and Richie Morales. Terri Thunders got to meet them at our 2010 reunion and it was truly a memorable event.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Off To Work?

Graduation Day in June 1972 was one of many special occasions for the family as my parents began realizing that our days as a happy unit were growing numbered. Lea and our parents came out for the ceremony at Loughlin before Manny took us to the Greek Village near Madison Square Garden to celebrate. Harry Naegele, one of the older guys in my classes, crossed our paths on the way to the ceremony. Inexplicably, he began goofing on Manny’s white suit, calling him the Good Humor man. Why Manny or I didn’t call him out is still a mystery; I think we were caught way off-guard. In this day and age I would’ve cold-cocked him and let Manny bail me out. In retrospect, I’d wager that Harry’s Dad no-showed and left him mad at the world. It was just another example of how blessed I was by my Heavenly Father to have given me an earthly one as great as Manny. Anyway, we had a great time at a Greek nightclub afterwards, and it came as a portent of a great episode in my life to follow.
One of my Mom’s drinking buddies got me a job at a bank on Wall Street shortly thereafter, and I was in heaven with my $110 weekly salary. I got along great with my co-workers, and we began meeting after hours on Friday at the local saloon. It was during this time that I met a beautiful Greek girl I would never forget.
Pam Kagabines was, after Judy Emmick, definitely one that got away. She was one of the new trainees at the bank where one of Mom’s drinking buddies got me my first job. She was a beautiful Greek girl with an hourglass figure, thick black hair and emerald eyes. I thought she had eyes on Ray, a handsome Sicilian fellow who I made friends with. Our clique went drinking one Friday night and we got separated from the pack, going off on our own. We kissed and petted by the end of the night, and I escorted her all the way back to her home in Queens. I got double-crossed at the bank shortly afterward and was fired, but Pam and I saw each other once more before she went off to college. We exchanged letters but it didn’t seem that she was interested in keeping things rolling between us. Looking back, I think a little bit more persuasion on my part wouldn’t have hurt matters any. Chalk another one up to my chronic lack of self-confidence back in the day.
My Mom was seriously up my ass for the rest of the summer, not having the sense to realize that job markets dry up during the summertime. I finally got a job at Insurance Services Office after Labor Day, after which I let Mom know in no uncertain terms how I resented being hounded by her and Manny for not having found one sooner. She realized she had hit a raw nerve and never got on me for going jobless again, though Manny more than made up for it when I hit a couple of rough spots over the next couple of years.
Depression is one of the most common ailments among society that is finally being addressed here in the 21st century. Back in the day, one was simply seen as a lazy bastard feeling sorry for themselves when they got caught in a rut. What people back then failed to realize was the trauma people go through when they lose a job, or a loved one, or whatever other blessing they might have. I’m a firm believer in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, but I’m also a seasoned fighter who knows how hard it is to get up when slammed full-force to the ground.
Anyway, ISO was safe haven for four years, and if it wasn’t for the path the Lord had set for me, I would have thought I should have stayed there over different points in time. I met some good people there and had plenty of great times, but the best of these were with Jerome Browne. He was a veteran who had been drafted off the streets of Brooklyn and tossed onto the front lines in Vietnam. He wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree but had grown up quickly enough to find his way around most situations. He liked my attitude and I loved having him at my side, and he went along with just about anything I had in mind.
(To be continued...)

Friday, November 28, 2014

The End of the Butler Street Jets?

The day finally came when I was able to prevail against Manny. It never actually happened but came close enough. We got to roughhousing one night after carousing and I nearly choked him out before releasing him as he tried tearing my hair out. As with my Mom years earlier, I never followed up on it and never wanted to. It was enough to know that I had reached that new level of advancement. Manny was always considered one of the real tough guys in the ‘hood, and to have bested him was a feather in my cap. I never told anyone of overcoming either of them until many years later, more than likely as of this writing. Being able to outwrestle your parents is no worthy achievement for anyone…unless your parents happen to be as hardcore tough as mine.
One thing to consider was the fact that Manny was a bad drunk and bullied me and the rest of the family more than once while loaded. Although I never once considered any form of comeuppance, I have to think that what goes around comes around sometimes. Still, I always loved my Dad very deeply and always will, and would have destroyed anyone who touched a hair on his head. Even after the Butler Street Screwjob of ’04, if he’d have come back from the grave afterwards, I’d have cursed him as a stupid son of a bitch before taking him to dinner as if nothing happened.
The Church, oddly enough, was the reason why the remnant of the Jets fell apart. Mark was being heavily brainwashed by Battle and was slowly becoming a religious loony before our eyes. He lost his personality and actually grew hostile towards me for not conforming like he and Israel and (so he thought) Ismael. Jose and Raul, alternately, weren’t into the church scene and stopped accompanying us altogether. Alma and Sonia remained solidly behind me but it was becoming more and more obvious that we were no longer ideal candidates for the updated version of the Dean Street Youth Group. We realized our time was up, but still had enough of a yearning for the church life to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Our last hurrah came when Pastor Hawthorne took over Strong Place Baptist Church from Pastor Cruz as interim pastor. He came in strong, organizing a youth group and enrolling us in a church basketball league in Manhattan in which all the churches sponsoring the summer camp participated. It was a welcome diversion from Dean Street, and we spent more time working on our B-ball game than trying to wreck each other playing football. Unfortunately we were far better at football and got our butts handed to us in every single game.
It was a transitional period during which the emphasis on sports in our lives was about to be superseded by our new enthusiasm for music. Joe Namath, Derek Sanderson and Superstar Billy Graham were about to make way for Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper. Football helmets, hockey sticks and wrestling costumes would be replaced by mic stands, amplifiers and guitars as we found a new means of self-expression in our lives.
One thing would remain constant: though the cast of characters would change, our infrastructure remained open to people who shared our vision of transcendence and redemption. The Jets would give way to the Spoiler, which would evolve into the Ducky Boys, but the spirit of camaraderie and the tradition of achievement would remain eternal. Though few of us, such as Alma, Sonia, Ray Merced and I, would experience it all, those who appeared in future episodes would agree that this forever remained the case.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Scorpion Karate?

Just like with Father George and the Catholics’ Sunday Mass mortal sin error, the major disaster on Dean Street was Dan Battle being unable to explain Paul’s teaching on marriage in the Epistles. I saw it as a glaring discrepancy which led me to label Paul as a phony and blowhard. Of course, when one part of Scripture rings untrue the rest falls like a house of cards. When Dan dropped the ball on this one, my confidence in his religion shattered like a heart of glass. After my own rededication in ’93, I would be able to knock this kind of rebuttal out of the park. Unfortunately, the Holy Ghost didn’t give Dan the same gift of evangelism that I would have years later.

At any rate, Dan’s game plan was to groom Israel to replace me as leader of the Youth Group, which I doubt Israel would have been willing to do. When Israel left for seminary, he decided Ismael would be the next Galvan to lead a flock. What he didn’t know was what an ambitious little snake Ismael was. He was helping me plot to undermine Dan at every step while running back and telling what I was up to. Obviously Dan got the Pastor’s consent and held a vote to re-elect the Youth Group members. Dan loaded the group with a bunch of the Cuban kids from downstairs and suddenly, yours truly became yesterday’s news. What he did not consider was the fact that Cuban kids grew up a lot quicker than American kids. As a result, his new recruits weren’t in the group longer than it took to get married and have babies. Rafael Carpio went from a peripheral member of the Youth Group to a seat on the Board of Elders in less than a year!

Sorry to say, but Phillips’ organizational skills were non-existent. When I designed blueprints for my church in ’96, I saw myself as Pastor alongside an Assistant Pastor who would be the prayer leader, along with an outreach minister and a Bible School supervisor. These are the cornerstones of the Church: the preacher, intercessor, evangelist and teacher. Without these separate ministries receiving exclusive attention, your Church will be unable to grow. Phillips had everyone and no one wearing these hats at any given time, and it was a case of too many chiefs and no Indians in the wigwam. I wouldn’t have thought of opening a Church without someone securely holding each position. I can’t think of a time when Phillips had one spot solidly filled.

Dean Street Baptist Church may well serve as a paradigm for what ails the modern-day Church in most communities. Many sectarians have lost sight of Paul’s vision in the Epistles, and see the Church more as a community center than a house of worship or Christian activism. This turns the Church into little more than a glorified social club, and it not only robs the community of its inherent benefits but earns their spite and derision in the long run. Instead of Christians going out into the community to reach their neighbors and save souls, they co-exist in their ivory-steepled churches that the outsider sees as daunting and standoffish. Planted firmly amidst a minority community in Park Slope, Earl Phillips didn’t have a whole lot going on that the neighborhood wanted a piece of.

Looking back, armed with the experience and knowledge of a lifetime along both sides of the fence, I would have to say that Phillips’ and Battle’s fatal errors were fairly obvious. In order to earn the admiration of young people you have to be able to inspire them. We liked Earl and Dan but did not think of them as role models. Alternately, we could sense that Sam Galvan was a pretty tough guy, and we respected it. In my own case, Johnny Favorite always comes off as a cool dude with young people, and I never had problems relating to them. I have always had a solid relationship with youth groups and always expect to in future. It is one major reason why the Spoiler is still able to remain relevant to the younger generation after all these years.

Alma, Sonia and I pretty well left the flock after that. I remember Ismael was heavily channeling Billy Jack, the movie character, around that time and fancied himself a karate expert. He hooked up with another Caribbean ethnic, Hugo, who became his disciple. I tried to talk Ismael into setting up a martial arts tournament at the Church to showcase different skills. Of course, he and I both knew it was an obvious subterfuge for me to kick his ass, and he was never going to make that happen. Hugo was all for it, and we ended up meeting down the road with embarrassing results for me – for all the wrong reasons.

Hugo happened across Scorpion Karate in ’73 when I was there for the long haul, and he began running his mouth about his muse Ismael. This was not the right approach to an egocentric guy like Alfonso Rivera. Still, he had enough class to refrain from sending one of his top guns after Hugo, so gave me the job instead. He set Hugo and me up for a sparring match, and I spent most of the time stalking him while he did everything he could to keep me at bay. The class was having a ball watching the cat-and-mouse game, but went hysterical when I finally closed in on a fallen Hugo as he backpedaled into a wall. In desperation, Hugo grabbed my pajama bottom to trip me up…and tore it from crotch to knee! The guys howled with laughter as I retreated to the locker room to change back into my jeans. Hugo made his point but never returned to Scorpion after that.

Overall, I was developing into a pretty tough guy though the Lord kept me well out of the loop as regards any wrestling aspirations. Looking back at it, I could have easily qualified for the ranks of the WWWF’s jobbers and worked my way up in time to a mid-card spot or better. Ismael, Mark and I attended quite a few matches back in the day and were always surprised to see how normal-sized the guys looked outside the ring. Though the door remained closed, I continued improving my skills for future use, and the time spent was a worthy investment.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Leaving Dean Street?

Alma Merced lived with her family at 278 Court Street, and they would prove to have the next big impact on my life. Her dad Ramon used to sell refreshments out of his car at the ballpark in Red Hook, and would park it on Butler Street now and again. Ismael and I hated that car because he had coated a repair job with house paint, provoking us to pelt the jalopy with eggs. I saw Alma hanging out with the family at Columbia Park one day, and her figure captured my interest. We got to chatting, and the Wilkies asked what I was doing with the girl with ‘the Coke bottle glasses’. I was still barely making it with chicks after losing Martha and Dinny, so I decided to overlook Alma’s handicap and ignore the Wilkies. It turned out to be the beginning of one of the longest friendships of my life.

Sonia Martinez was, along with Alma and their friend Yolanda, the triple threat at the Industrial House of the Blind, which would soon play a major role in Spoiler history. Sonia was the youngest of four siblings and was very much the coddled one. It lent her an endearing princess quality which she maintains to this day. Yolanda was as high-spirited as Alma but more pragmatic, and she fell into a childhood romance with local boxing star Ruben Ortiz that led them to the altar. Even though I never got to first base with her, she became the subject of one of the Spoiler’s earliest original hits, “Yolanda Told Me”. Anyway, Alma introduced me to Sonia around the time Ismael began his hostile takeover of the Dean Street Youth Group. We broke away and began hanging out on our own, which sowed the seeds of much of what would transpire later.

My last fling at Dean Street was June Carlson’s sister Leslie. She was a wayward child who was home on leave from a halfway house when we first met. She was a Swedish Amazon like her Mom, who probably topped the 300-pound mark, and June, who was as tall but not as sturdily built. Leslie and I hit it off great but her Mom was not very happy with someone who didn’t look like they were bringing her back to the path of salvation. Plus, June decided to side with Ismael and Dan Battle in the power struggle over the Youth Group, and she caught all the flak that I did not want to bring down on those two.

Leslie and I broke up due to the fact that she was turned off by my constant role-playing while hanging with the Jets. Either I was going off on my psycho wrestler routine when ribbing the others over our upcoming BSWC showdown, or hamming it up along with the radio as Alice Cooper’s hit song School’s Out hit the airwaves. “You’re either a rock star or a wrestler, never yourself,” she said as she gave me the brushoff.

Unfortunately she never realized that was exactly who I was, a rock star wrestler. She found that out about three years later when she ran into Alma and I and came to a Spoiler practice. It was a wild night, and the next morning I found her in bed with me. I had lost about thirty pounds which she seemed to have gained, and our size difference was so great that when I woke the next morning, I didn’t know where to start. We remained good friends nonetheless, though I saw her one last time in Brooklyn Heights a couple of years later as she was with a new beau and I was with Luna. It was hi and bye, and I certainly hope she found what she was looking for over the years. I’m sure she made someone a wonderful partner.

It was around 1971-72 when we made contact with Tito Rivera, who was friends with Ramon and had big hopes for Ruben Ortiz, Yolanda’s beau. He ran the Columbia Street Boxing Club, and we asked him if there was a chance of us having a wrestling show there during an off-schedule time. To our surprise he agreed, and we held two shows there before the group dissolved once and forever.

The biggest regret I had about the Columbia shows was that, after the second one, Tito asked us if we’d like to have a match at his boxing show that evening. It was a great opportunity but I was already scheduled to accompany my parents to a Veteran Boxers’ Association dinner and dance. It was with typical naivete that I didn’t even think of asking Tito to give us a rain check. I had fantasized about doing a job with Spook long afterwards, and I’m sure we could’ve brought BSWC to the next level if we had pursued the option. Unfortunately the Guzmans moved away shortly thereafter, and when Israel took off for seminary, the BSWC would become defunct for almost three decades thereafter.

When Israel left for the seminary, it left a void in the Youth Group that Dan Battle was determined to patch with his own cloth. Dan was a Cuban national and a recent seminary graduate who had been referred to Pastor Phillips by Sam Galvan for the position of Youth Minister. Dan didn’t like what he saw when he got there, largely because it was what it was, a hangout place for the Butler Street Jets. His wife, Susan, was a nice enough person but was a real prude who did not like me one bit. Her young cousin Priscilla began dating Ismael, and that stacked the deck in his favor big time.

The fatal error at Dean Street Baptist was the church politics that probably got the place decommissioned (I never saw anyone led to Christ during my time there). Sam, bless his heart, was virtually running the same kind of insurgency that he did against Castro. He was always bragging about how he had a stronger following among his Spanish basement congregation than did the Pastor with his American flock upstairs. Earl Phillips, a Canadian, didn’t have a clue how to handle the Brooklyn church family he had inherited.  Plus he didn’t have the evangelical anointing I feel is a necessity in leading a church. He was a good man and a good Christian, but as a Pastor I credit him for allowing me to fall by the wayside for most of my young adulthood.

When Israel left, he left for good, severing all the mental and emotional ties in doing so. Dan Battle drove us out one time to visit him and he was, indeed, a changed man. He was cordial but kinda like one of the victims in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Was it Israel or was it Memorex? He seemed somewhat stressed by all the schoolwork, no doubt well on his way to a 4.0 average. Yet we realized that the old Israel was gone for good. It’s quite possible that one of Ismael’s motivations to turncoat was Samuel’s ecstasy over Israel’s progress. I went through the same thing when Lea Shithead went to college. All my mother talked about was how great Lea was doing, while I was fighting to keep the Ducky Boys alive in 1982. It irked the crap out of me, but outside of lambasting my Mom for it during drunken tirades, I just took it in stride. After all, seeing your kid through college is the American dream. Sadly enough, when I earned my degree in 2002, it was like been there, done that. I never even got a congratulations card.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BSWC Revival?

None of the rest of the Galvan clan could hold a candle to Israel and Ismael. Lisette’s little brother Johnny Straps had a short but lively career with the Jets, and he became an excellent target for my short shotgun passes. He was much younger and smaller than us, and never amounted to more than a utility player. Marilyn used to come down and shoot hoops with us, and I took her on my side in a couple of games to show off for her. A family friend, Rafael Carpio, came down one time to play football with us. Being the bastard I was, I knocked him on his arse and he never came back.

One night Sam invited me for a ride and told me he had a vision of me becoming a preacher. I was very flattered but tried to explain to him the teenage angst I was undergoing. I really didn’t know how to tell him that one remedy would have been for him to hook me up with one of his nieces. Maybe he understood but might not have thought it a good idea. At any rate, I told him I’d pray over it and left it at that. I only wish he would have learned of what was ahead almost twenty years later when I experienced my rededication to Christ. He would have been an extremely proud man.

For the most part, early on it was all about the friendly competition between the four of us based on the sibling rivalry between Israel and Ismael. Israel was great competition for me because he was book smart (and would go on to earn multiple doctorates and become a successful author) and a powerhouse athlete. Ismael and I, on the other hand, had a kindred spirit and complemented each others’ skills on the playing field. Mark ended up gravitating towards Israel by default though we remained close friends for years afterward. This pattern remained until the new kids on the block came along and rearranged everything.

Maria Guzman moved into the tenement across the street from 263 Court Street along with her Mom, her dog Mota and her sons Victor, Jose, Raul and Mongo. They would come to have another great impact on my life. Jose, like everyone else, it seemed, set his sights on Lea, and she brought him to the house where we made friends. He ended up becoming my biggest sports rival besides Israel, and unfortunately it was such that we didn’t become as close personal friends as we could have. I’d have to blame that on Jose, who had an inferiority complex and was under constant pressure as the surrogate man of the house. I really liked the guy and was disappointed that we lost contact after he moved away a couple of years later.

Victor, the oldest son, was a lardass who fancied himself a slickster and had a penchant for cheap wine and cocaine. Mark loved poking fun at him, and I had little time for him though Jose defended him fiercely. Raul, the youngest son, was the clown of our group and was always cutting up to our amusement. Mongo was a Mongolian idiot who wandered around the house wearing only a woman’s frock. Needless to say, he didn’t get out much.

Raul, or Chi Chi, was the Clown Prince of the Jets. He had a perpetual grin on his face and was always joking and goofing around. Of course, this made him the constant target for ribbing, but all in all he took it in stride. His idol was Chief Jay Strongbow, a mid-card babyface in the WWWF whose main claim to fame was a long feud with…the Spoiler! Of course, the feud spilled over into the BSWC, and Raul and I were constantly bickering and roughhousing as proxies for our heroes. We eventually took it to the mat during the BSWC’s Columbia Street II event, and it was the first and only jobbed match in the history of the BSWC, which I handily won.

Next to Superstar Billy Graham and the Road Warriors, Don Jardine was my all-time favorite wrestler. He was 6’4”, 275 pounds, but had the agility of a cat (the one who taught the Undertaker, Mark Calloway, his top-rope walk). His finisher, the Iron Claw, was a gimmick used by another of my boyhood heroes, Fritz Von Erich. He had a brief run with the WWWF before going down to the NWA in Florida and enjoying a highly successful run during which he captured all the regional titles he so richly deserved. The Spoiler passed away on December 16, 2006 from leukemia, and I never miss the chance to tell people about the man who inspired the rock band bearing his name.

Of course, since we were shoot wrestling, I was applying the claw to my opponents’ temples, causing great discomfort to one and all though never breaking the skin or causing blackouts like the gimmicked TV claws. To be fair, Von Erich’s claw was the real deal, and he clamped it on legendary San Antonio sportscaster Dan Cook one day to prove its authenticity during a broadcast interview. Cook grabbed Von Erich by the balls, and it was quite a struggle before the TV crew pried the two apart. At any rate, I even bought a bowling ball glove that looked just like Jardine’s, and before long Broadway Turk Superstar was very much the BSWC’s Spoiler dupe.

There was a significant difference between the Star appearing at Columbia I and II. Izzy and I dropped our tag team titles to Spook and Israel on the first show in what was nearly a squash job. During the second, I had Alma Merced put some mascara on for me, and the Glitter Rock Superstar took out Spook in short order despite the packed house wishing otherwise. Wearing war paint during the early 70’s was highly unorthodox for an athlete on any level, but I was always way ahead of my time and it didn’t start or end at BSWC. I think it was one big reason why Alma remained fascinated by her shithouse crazy friend throughout our lifetime friendship.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Hockey Life?

As it turned out, the worst was yet to come. I made some inquiries at St. Francis College during my senior year about their hockey team, and the guidance counselor hooked me up with their team which met weekly at the Long Island Coliseum where the Islanders played. Let me tell you, as badly as the Isles stunk in their pre-Cup days, they would do nothing compared to what BT Superstar would do during his tryout.

I’ll never forget it was Israel who drove me out there on an hour-long haul for which he asked not a cent. He watched in embarrassment as I went out on my figure skates and did my flip-flop rubber ankle routine. Unbeknownst to me, one of my schoolmates, Robert Lacey, was in the audience as well. He was a big strapping Irishman who reminded me a lot of Bobby Orr during our Loughlin hockey games. Lacey decided to inquire and, as in turned out, became a welcome addition to the Terriers’ hockey club.

The difference in my second coming on ice was the sheer desperation with which I approached. I was in my early fifties and knew that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of going anywhere, but realized that I had never had a chance to find out where the playing skill the Lord had provided could have taken me. The difference was that at 240 pounds, with a 350-pound bench press and a 485-pound squat, as well as two brown/black belts to my credit, intimidation was going to be a non-factor in my opponents’ regard. I would have broken anyone across my knee as easily as a hockey stick. Unfortunately, everyone saw me coming and decided they did not want or need that in their fantasy hockey microcosm. After a season and a half of play at the Waukonis Ice Center, both players and officials alike decided to blackball me from their Mickey Mouse league.

What will forever stick in my craw was the weasel who did me in, Joe Lynch. He had been sucking up to Islanders’ legend Ken Morrow, who lived in the area and came to the rink regularly. I was dying to meet Morrow, inasmuch as the Isles were our heroes during their Stanley Cup reign and I knew everything about them, even after twenty years. I also knew that Morrow could assess my skills and give me advice as to whether I could create my own miracle on ice just as he and the US Olympic Team did against the Russians in 1980. Unfortunately, Lynch was insanely jealous of my ability, largely due to our closeness in age. He was a beat-up bag of shit who could barely skate, while I had his entire crew hearing skates behind them when I was on the ice. Lynch railroaded me out of the league, along with any chances I had of meeting Morrow and fulfilling a possible destiny. Que sera, sera.

I always knew deep down that brute force is, was, and will always be the deciding factor in all sports. The bigger and stronger team or individual will always win provided there is not a major discrepancy in the level of skill. Back then, I knew that I would get my arse handed to me for playing the kind of hockey game I did on Columbia Street. One of Dad’s friends from the Veteran Boxers actually sat next to Bobby Orr on a plane trip. They hit it off well, and he later told Dad that he might have been able to arrange having me sent to one of Orr’s training camps. I realized this was not an option because I didn’t have the necessary skills or the muscle to back it up. Over two decades later, I developed both in my own time, at a point in my life when most of what I had left was time.

It was too bad as far as football was concerned. I was an above average quarterback in that I had developed the skill of my hero Joe Namath in reading defenses and calling audibles in a day and age when it was virtually unheard-of. I also had a great shotgun short pass that Manny had helped me refine out on the street. I was also a decent runner though not good enough to make the Loughlin track team. My long pass was average though I could always put the ball on the money within my range. On defense I played middle linebacker, and I could read offenses plus make people pay for coming down my lane as a headhunting tackler. I was also a great pass defender and was the one guy Ismael and Spook Guzman could not beat. Of course, it was not meant to be, but I’m sure I could’ve contributed heavily to any football team had the opportunity presented itself.

As a hockey player I had above average skills in every facet of the game. Regrettably, as time went on, my size and strength gains came in forfeit of my speed. When I returned to Columbia Street hockey in ’75 at 185 pounds, my days as a speedster were long over. I was forced to depend on my hitting ability and my skills as a shooter and playmaker to compensate. Unfortunately for all concerned, I was carrying forty extra pounds and they packed a brutal wallop. When I took my last shot at the game in 2009, I came in at 240 pounds and was the terror of the league. It was a different day and age, however, and this carnivore got tossed out on his butt.

Basketball was one game that helped us stay in top shape, even though we were far too short to make it count anywhere outside of the schoolyard. I fancied myself another Pistol Pete Maravich, having incorporated some of my hockey moves in eluding defenders while dribbling. We were all at about the same skill level, and our games were highly competitive though I daresay that Ismael and I won way more games than Israel and Mark did. In all fairness, Spook Guzman was probably the best of us, though I fought him tooth and nail in every game (basketball or otherwise) that we played.

(To be continued...) 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Finding My Libido?

It was about this time that I came to terms with my manhood and my sexuality. Let me start out by saying that, as an artist, Manny was not ashamed of exposing the female body. He had one of his nude paintings over our living room TV set at 14 Butler, which was the first thing one spotted when they came through the apartment door. When we moved to our new house, Manny chose the small vestibule between the living room and kitchen to hang his Playboy calendar. Unfortunately it was just off to the left of the bathroom door (and I’m glad Pastor Phillips never needed to use the restroom during his visit one time!). He also kept a few adult mags by his bedside, which I eagerly flipped through when my parents were out. My Mom never had a problem with these, being quite liberal in the sex department in her own right.

I’m not placing blame here since, quite frankly, the Butler Aces contributed heavily to my education in the sex department, as did my advanced reading skills that allowed me to go through the entire collection of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. What I will say is that the home should be the sanctuary and the primary learning place where a child finds guidance in avoiding the evils of the wicked world. You can’t shield a child from what is on the street, but you can teach them the difference between right and wrong. You leave enough temptation lying around the house, and a kid will eventually go outside to find where the real deal is available.

 The Figueroa sisters were far too street-wise to let anyone get past first base. I had a brief interlude with a sweet Italian girl named Luann Pellegrino on my thirteenth birthday which got me to third base but, no cigar. Loaded with testosterone and surging with hormone imbalances, I was looking for female companionship and found plenty of it at the Freehold retreat. I came home with a couple of hot phone numbers, and within days the hunt was on.

Dinelia Cruise was Nitza’s older sister, and we took to chatting on the phone for long hours when I began calling the number given to me at camp. We arranged a blind date a couple of weeks later, and Ismael was delighted that he’d gotten the better of the deal, or so he thought.  Dinny was about twenty pounds overweight and had a faint darkening on her upper lip that stuck out to me like a sore thumb at the time. Unfortunately for Ismael, Nitza dropped him like a hot rock, and I tried to get back with her behind Dinny’s back to no avail.

Dinny and I started hanging out together and I spent lots of time ribbing her. She was dead serious about losing weight, though, and one afternoon she was at a Jets’ football game when suddenly it was pouring rain. Everyone ran home but Dinny and I, and I had my arm around her in a gentlemanly way. When we got home, suddenly I saw her in a way I’d never seen her before. With that long wet hair, that rain-scrubbed face and her sopping clothes hugging her figure, she turned into Isabel Sarli. At once our friendship evolved into a torrid affair, and we lost our virginity together one morning shortly thereafter.

Unfortunately Dinny’s conscience began bothering her, and she was distraught that I had told her I was destined to marry a German girl (which I did, twice). She had become friends with Lea, who invited her to spend a weekend that promised to closely resemble Goodbye Columbus. She called at the last minute to tell me she didn’t want to see me anymore, and I blew her off with injured pride without even asking why. We never spoke or saw one another again, and I can only surmise it was the Lord’s will. I’m sure she grew up to be a wonderful Christian woman and I pray all turned out for the best.

My athletic abilities were really starting to blossom though my big mouth (a byproduct of my chronic insecurity) tended to quench the admiration of more than a few onlookers. To be fair, I must admit that I had a realistic perspective on my limits and never pushed the envelope farther than I was able to. For one thing, I was painfully aware that at 147 pounds, I was nowhere near the competitive level at Loughlin that I was on Butler Street. In other words, I was the proverbial big fish in the small pond. I knew that my football skills were insufficient to pursue a career on any level, and I gave up my wrestling dream until fifteen years later. I had hoped that hockey would have been my salvation, but my hopes were dashed during a humiliating tryout with the St. Francis Terriers hockey team during my senior year. I would not resolve that issue until returning to the ice over thirty-five years later.

Actually, my first experience with ice hockey was quite paradoxical. First off, my Mom and I decided to buy me a pair of figure skates which I only got to use once or twice at the Prospect Park skating rink, which was the only place the Butler Street Blues ever got to test their skill. My ignorance was so comprehensive that I did not even know the skates needed to be sharpened. Somehow I got away with a couple of sessions at the Park, most likely due to the fact that the ice was so bad that any sort of blades would have sufficed. It was a couple of years later as the Osborns passed through our lives that I got a taste of pond hockey, and as I said, I had no idea what I would be capable of or could expect out on Long Island with the Terriers.

Susan and Pete Osborne bought the Sosas’ home at 16 Butler Street, and they were quite a sight indeed. They were prototypical yuppies, the type who had probably forsaken hippiedom in setting out on a vision quest in the business world. Lea got friendly with them and began babysitting for their son Jono, then their newborn daughter shortly thereafter. I got chatty with Susan as we had a couple of political conversations, though I quickly found we were on opposite sides of the fence. I made pals with Jono, and he soon became the new Blues mascot.

Susan had quite a pair of legs, a shapely figure and a sharp tongue to match. She spoke her mind on no uncertain terms and became a witch after Tabitha was born when loiterers made enough noise to disrupt the baby’s naptime. I recall Kenny Reyes wanting to throttle her on numerous occasions after tongue-lashings but nothing came of it. Nevertheless, the Osborns had enough of Butler Street in time and decided to relocate upstate to Garrison NY. They bought a beautiful home with its own duck pond on the acreage and invited me to come visit. I took the Amtrak out there and got my first taste of pond hockey that winter.

Let me tell you, on the Osborns’ duck pond my visions of hockey fame and fortune came to life with a vengeance. I was skating like a fiend, pulling all my twists, turns and pirouettes with little ado. A few of Jono’s friends playing with us were enthralled and could not wait to see what I would be capable of doing at the big neighborhood pick-up game on the frozen lake that next day. I went to sleep in fantasyland that night, ready to set their hicktown on its ear.

Let me tell you, pride goeth before a fall, and with my unsharpened blades causing my ankles to buckle, I did a lot of falling that next day. It was the best ice I had ever skated on, like a big sheet of glass, and my blades slid across them like butter knives. I wouldn’t look that bad again until over thirty-five years later in Kansas City, and it was about as humiliating an experience as I thought I could endure.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Born Again?

BSWC came back to life in the summer of 1970. I had drifted away from the Wilkies during that time just as the Yodels had distanced themselves from me for our differences towards oncoming maturity. Once it grew too hot to play football, I had the idea of having a wrestling tournament to select a new Butler Street Wrestling Club champion. I can’t remember who came out on top between Mark and Ismael, but Israel and I made short work of them going into the finals. At long last I got to unleash the Iron Deathlock, and even Israel’s great strength was no match for my great and terrible hold. I had become the fourth BSWC champion, a title I would hold for thirty-four years until my father’s death in 2004.

Dean Street Baptist Church became our new gathering place as Samuel was determined to bring us into his new fold. There didn’t seem to be any way around it if we wanted to keep the Jets together; Samuel hauled the boys off for every church meeting, no questions asked. After my Catholic beliefs crashed and burned during my freshman year at Loughlin, I wasn’t against the idea of getting my religious beliefs back on track. Besides, my Mom was a Baptist, so my parents’ mixed marriage helped to facilitate the transition.

Pastor Earl Phillips was a pretty good fellow as preachers went, but I don’t think he was aptly suited to run a crew in a Brooklyn tenement area. He was a Canadian, and he had a passion for the great outdoors, which benefitted us on one great camping trip he took us on. He just couldn’t understand the urban adolescent mind, and though he tried hard he just couldn’t win us over. His help wasn’t much better, with Bob Fernandez (a borderline sissy) and Jack Wacker, an old-time Bible thumper, as his right-hand men. And, of course, Samuel, who was champing at the bit to start his own crew and be rid of Phillips.

One thing to remember was that Samuel had his own crew at Strong Place Baptist Church (the same street where I hooked up with the Wilkies). He was not happy to have lost his building for whatever reason, but he didn’t take it with the Christian spirit required of a pastor. Instead of deferring to Phillips, there was an undercurrent of competition that was not lost on the rest of us. We were Sam’s Kids, and in our shallowmindedness, we constantly poked fun at what we saw as the ‘competition’ at every opportunity. It’s easy enough to blame Sam, but I believe that Earl was just a bad coach on a bad team.

They certainly did try their very best, and at one point they succeeded far beyond their expectations. They set us up for a trip to a Youth Conference in Freehold NJ under the auspices of Daniel Hawthorne, who had invited a few other Spanish-speaking churches to attend. It was at this rally that I was ‘born again’ as a Christian soldier.

Hawthorne was a true leader and a figurehead in the Hispanic church network. Though he was an Anglo, he spoke good Spanish (with his American accent) and could deliver a strong sermon in either language. The way things worked out, Samuel had turned the Strong Place church (relocated to Court Street) over to Omar Reyes, who ceded it in turn to Hawthorne about a year later. At first we bumped heads with Hawthorne at the camp, but when he took over Strong Place Church we developed a mutual respect. He understood street kids much better than Phillips. He didn’t try to criticize or judge us, and we respected that. Moreover, he knew that change comes over time, and it certainly did for all of us.

Anyway, we went up there with our wise-ass Jets attitude, and quickly set ourselves apart from the rest. What turned into an enormous advantage was football. We began recruiting the kids in Cabin C where we were assigned, and soon we had a kickass team assembled. One thing in our favor that there was a large number of soccer players on board who had no problem running for long periods of time chasing loose balls. We taught them basic patterns and catching techniques, and soon I had an arsenal of weapons available for our pickup games.

Hawthorne had arranged a number of athletic competitions during the week, and closing them out with an American football game was a natural. I’m not sure how it came to pass, most likely because of my big mouth, but it turned out that they matched Cabin C against a team of recruits from the rest of the camp. This not only included campers but the adult counselors! I was so full of piss and vinegar I cared less, but at game time, I realized I was in for the challenge of my young career.

Poor Israel ended up the worse for wear at center, having to spend the afternoon blocking Oscar Reyes. He was one of the youth ministers, a lanky heavyweight who was after me like a cat on a rat. I spent half the game picking my ass off the grass until I finally decided the only way out was to put the ball in the air as soon as Israel hiked it to me. This enabled Ismael and my other high-flyers to go cherry-picking throughout the second half, giving us the game with a decisive scoring edge. Ismael and the team tossed me into the swimming pool afterwards, and I was quite the big man on the campground.

Being in a coed environment allowed my star to shine as never before, and soon there were girls around whose attention I could attract. One of these was Nitza Cruz, a beautiful Puerto Rican girl from Broadway Baptist Church who sat with her friends at our lunch table. Nitza and I got chummy, though she was very shy and not much on a conversational level. We exchanged numbers and made plans to hook up after the retreat, but as it turned out, I ended up with two romances for the price of Nitza.

Martha Suarez was a lovely Ecuadorian girl who had just come over to America along with her extended family, and was living in the Bronx where they attended Fremont Baptist Church. She was at the Youth Camp at Freehold NJ along with her sister, her cousin Clara, and other members of their church’s youth group. We got to talking one morning at prayer meeting, and it was almost a prelude to what would happen with Neysa Flores decades later. We ended up taking a long walk down the road together and ran smack into Mr. Hawthorne in his station wagon. He reminded us in no uncertain terms that camp rules confined us to the campgrounds, and, no parejas (pairs) allowed! Naturally, that didn’t keep us from bringing our groups together for the evening fellowship. I had Nitza sitting to my right and Martha to my left, and though I was the envy of every guy in the place, Nitza decided to bow out of the competition and left Martha as the last girl standing.

On the last night of the retreat, Julio Nieves delivered a tremendous sermon in a last-minute attempt to bring us to Jesus. He spoke no English, but whatever he said acted as a Holy Ghost-driven battering ram to the heart. I remember getting all choked up and asking Martha to help me along, and the next thing I knew I was standing before the bonfire giving my soul to Christ.

There are defining moments in one’s life that act as clear milestones along their charted course, and unquestionably this was the most important in mine. It was at this juncture that I considered myself born again, and though my baptism at Dean Street was somewhat of a charade, it was a confirmation of what had happened in Freehold. It would be about two decades before I underwent a truly profound spiritual transformation that actually surpassed it. At that point in time, however, I was on the rocky road and determined that I would not stumble to the wayside.

As you will see, there were quite a few pitfalls that helped define the journey of a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Urban Legend?

Mark, the Galvans and I were inseparable for that short span, which lasted little over a year though proving one of the most eventful times in our adolescence. The Butler Street Jets made quite a name for themselves in the ‘hood as kings of the gridiron, and they established a vital link between the Butler Street Wrestling Club of the Reyes-Yodice era and the BSWC of the 21st century. We had also secured our position as the dominant force on the block, prevailing against the Yodels for the Butler Aces’ legacy and holding our place intact until the rise of the Spoiler a couple of years later. Though we’ve lost contact over the years, it’s one of my fondest memories and I’ll never forget them.      

I was about fourteen years old in the Summer of ’69 when I decided I had to create an enduring image for myself that would hold fast throughout the turbulence of my teen years, and hopefully beyond. The other hockey players at Loughlin and on the Stars were calling me Turk (after my Derek Sanderson Bruins #16 jersey), so that seemed a plausible option. I was still referring to myself as Broadway Joe on the asphalt field playing football with Mark and the Galvans. So, I decided, why not Broadway Turk? It had a magic ring but needed a finishing touch, and the inspiration came from my favorite rock opera of all time, the new sensation “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Begging the Lord’s forgiveness, Broadway Turk Superstar was born, and I immediately stenciled it onto my hockey stick where it somehow lasted for over twenty years. The name and the character, as you can see, did endure.

The Yodels moved to Long Island that summer after a couple of skirmishes that indicated Ginny may have avoided a blood feud should they have lingered much longer. One time they staged a ride-by on their road bikes and fired paper clips at me, Mark and the Galvans. We responded with a barrage of empty soda bottles that ran off the Yodelss and left the street covered with broken glass. Another time Paulie came around and got in an argument with Ismael, who punched him in the face. There was a sitdown between our cliques but nothing came of it. Finally, John came by one time and trapped Israel’s arms in a rear waistlock. They tussled briefly and I think Israel’s strength made an impression. Then, one day, poof, they were gone. I wouldn’t hear from them until Spoiler VI at Los Panchos about seven years later.

The winter of ’69 was when I established myself as the greatest hockey player of the decade in South Brooklyn. Even though my best weight was 147 (as listed on my draft card), I was like greased lightning on wheels. I had an instinct for the game matched only by my hockey skills. I also loved to hit and could give and take better than the rest. I made contact with the Wilkies and ended up joining their team, which we soon began calling the Stars. I played center on their second-string line as a matter of choice, selecting Steven Duffy and Julio Gary, a black kid, as my linemates. In a short time we were outplaying their first line which featured Anthony and Peter Vega, another of their best players who was also one of their football mainstays. I scored countless goals and leveled just about every player on the team that first year, establishing a reign of terror patterned after the Big Bad Bruins.

It was on that fifteenth birthday when my Mom consented as I embarked on a lifelong pattern of substance abuse. I pulled all the strings and pushed all the buttons to get her to agree that I should be allowed to have some liquor at the party. To be fair, one’s fifteenth birthday is often considered a rite of passage in many cultures. Only she should have realized that, coming from an alcoholic Mom and a borderline alkie Dad, and having an Irish-Spanish bloodline and a willful spirit to boot, she exposed me to far greater risk than a responsible parent should have. 

Taking sole ownership of Butler Street resulted in a testosterone explosion amongst the Butler Street Jets, as we now called ourselves. Israel grudgingly butted heads with me like a couple of rams at every opportunity, as did Ismael and Mark. We went from touch football to British Bulldog, and after we tore almost a whole wardrobe of T-shirts from each others’ back, we decided our best option would be to take it up to Memorial Park and the football field. It was there that we came into our own and truly set out on our individual paths to manhood. 

(To be continued...)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Columbia Park Chaos?

I redeemed myself at Loughlin on the intramural hockey team. The Rangers were in a rabid playoff series against the Boston Bruins that spring, and their top enforcer, Derek Sanderson, became the new ‘someone I loved to hate’. Just like Von Erich, I became fascinated by this new rogue and eventually began channeling the Bruins’ Wild Child. Sure enough, I showed up at Loughlin on game day wearing Sanderson’s No. 16. Although everyone assured me I was a goner, all that came of it was my new nickname: Turk, after Sanderson himself. So, now you know. Actually, I wasn’t the only one enchanted by the Terrible Turk. Not many people realize that the New York Yankees’ All-Star shortstop was named after the Bruins’ center: Derek Sanderson Jeter.

John Yodels and I had gone permanently on the outs by then. Harold eventually turned on me and joined John to become my bitter rivals. Both of them realized during my Nazi episode that I wasn’t about to get bullied anymore. John was always the cunning type and probably saw how things would end up in a power struggle on Butler Street. I didn’t have that foresight, and was still thinking of them as the Wild Bunch, like the new Peckinpah movie. Only I wasn’t the gang leader anymore, and became a lone wolf for a while before building a new crew of my own.

  As the Yodels began expanding their sphere of influence, taking their bully act to Douglass and Degraw Streets, I became more withdrawn and spent time riding my three-speed around the neighborhood. Eventually I began building my leg strength and endurance, unbeknownst to me, until my crossover into adolescence and the resulting testosterone rush began manifesting itself in unheralded episodes of brashness. I was backtalking all the neighborhood bullies to their consternation and soon making a new mark on the sports field. Things changed forever at the beginning of hockey season #3, when I ushered in our checking era by knocking Harold on his ass. He left the team shortly afterward and I became the new cock on the walk, so to speak. I kept the team going and remained the big fish in the little pond until the Strong Place All-Stars drifted along.

Anthony and Robert Wilkie were blond-haired, heavy-set twins living on Strong Place who were a lot like a pair of Baby Hueys. I found out later that they had played in a band with Ed Colander before turning their focus on sports. Around the time I had met them they had developed quite a reputation west of Court Street, so it was natural that our twains would meet. They saw us playing one afternoon and introduced themselves, asking if we would like to play against their team on Strong Place sometime. I readily obliged, setting the stage for a momentous home-and-home series.

During the first game it was pretty much Turk vs. the All-Stars, and I learned a hard lesson about the necessity of wearing groin protectors on the playing field. Lacking anyone worthy of passing the puck to, my entire strategy revolved around firing the puck up the court and using my speed to beat everyone to it. The Stars began adopting the tactic, and one of their best players, Peter Vega, let a wrist shot fly that caught me square in the groin. Bear in mind that we were still using ice hockey pucks instead of the plastic iceless pucks. That put an extended halt to the game until I somehow managed to skate it off. We got beat pretty bad, and invited them to Butler Street for a rematch.

That game was pretty much the last hurrah for the Blues. We threw everything at them but the kitchen sink, including a one-skated Harold Yodels, who couldn’t play on two skates anymore. We ended up winning 4-2, which included a controversial goal strenuously upheld by our referee, Anthony Scala, and lineman Richie Aceto. The Wilkies weren’t happy when they went back to Strong Place, but were elated weeks later when I told them the Blues had disbanded and I wanted to join the Stars.

  We got pretty close during the one season I played on Strong Place. They say that twins look alike but often have different personalities, and this was the case here. Robert, who I got along with very well, was easy-going and playful. Anthony, who grew very resentful of me over time, was competitive and goal-oriented. While I was playing center, he and I and Peter Vega were unstoppable as linemates. I got bored with the monopoly game and decided to move back to defense, teaming up with Robert as the Maginot Line.

The games grew far too competitive for Strong Place to contain, so we moved the team to Columbia Park along the waterfront. It gave me a chance to open up, and the games grew extremely competitive as I was blazing up and down the court at breakneck speed skating rings around everyone and everything. Unfortunately, I had adopted the Bruin mentality, and I got chippier as the season wore on. Robert, who was a standout football player, liked to hit as well and we constantly schemed on catching our opponents in cross-blocks and sandwich jobs. At other times, it would turn into shooting matches between Anthony, Pete and I, who had the heaviest shots on the team.

Socially, we spent most of our time managing our fantasy hockey league, which consisted of about five different board games, one of which I created myself. I was maturing rapidly, however, and the wanderlust that would possess me for most of my life began to take hold of me. I tired of sitting around the house and wanted to take long walks, which wasn’t the Wilkies’ cup of tea. By the end of hockey season, we went our separate ways, and I started hanging out with Mark Roman again. Only this time, he had made friends with a couple of newcomers, the Galvan brothers.  

(To be continued...)