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...)