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...)
(To be continued...)