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...)

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