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...)