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...)