Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Better Half?

I took a couple of plane trips around this time, the first to visit my Grandpa in 1972 and then to visit my Aunt Marge in 1973. Visiting Teodulfo Dizon was quite an experience. He was still a strict, disciplined man though the years had mellowed him quite a bit. Matter of fact, I found him to resemble the Koreans I would meet three decades later in their characteristic inscrutability. Though he had left the Orient over sixty years ago, he still maintained its ways and style, as if clinging to the environment in which he was born and raised. It was also due to the military tradition in which he was steeped, from his childhood as a military brat to his time in American bases from San Pedro to Fort Sam Houston. Though he was a slender man weighing about 135, he was hard as a rock and had never missed a day of work in over fifty years.                          

It was a whirlwind week for me and I wish I had the maturity to have savored more time with him. I went out a few times with my cousin Linda, who had played roller derby in a local team before retiring due to a knee injury. She took me to a downtown gay bar (which were the height of fashion in the glitter rock era) and we drank it up with some of the best-known drag queens in town. I met my cousin Johnny, who Grandpa warned me about, but we hit it off and went out for an evening of pool and had a great time. I also went carousing with my cousin Lupe, who invited me to an after-work party that Friday and then to some local downtown spots. I would have never dreamed that I would relocate to San Antonio a decade later, and that Johnny, Lupe and I would become as the Three Musketeers as I built my new infrastructure.

Grandpa would eventually write down his memoirs in a short essay, which would become the foundation for my semi-biographical novel, Generations (as yet unpublished). He told me quite a bit about his life in San Pedro and confided in me in a manner that would have made the Four Brothers jealous. I wish I would have realized at the time that he was pouring his heart out to me in hoping I would be the keeper of his memory, which I certainly hope I am. I remember him cooking a delightful shrimp and rice entrée for dinner one evening, and can’t remember him serving up anything I didn’t like. That was a big difference from my first visit to SA as a weeun, as he and Mom got into a row over him trying to make me eat my first bowl of oatmeal!

I also found out he was a big wrestling fan. Unfortunately, he naturally cheered for the babyfaces, while I was overjoyed to see the Golden Greek, John Tolos on the tube as he tore up some jobber in short order. I imagine what he would have thought in watching his grandson as Broadway Turk Superstar using everything from chairs to ashtrays on opponents in the Texas Wrestling Association almost two decades later. Actually, he never saw one of Manny’s fights, most likely because he wouldn’t have been able to bear it. Grandma Stella, on the other hand, went to most of them.

His big thing was still poker, and on my last night he brought me to his friend’s home for their big weekly game. Linda and her friends had planned a big sendoff for me but there was no way I could refuse Grandpa. It was a penny-ante game and I got thoroughly shellacked. I’m a pretty good poker player, but in those games, they were calling almost a dozen wild cards per hand which reduced it to a game of chance rather than skill. This took away my bluffing game, which both Grandpa and our revered family friend Baron Sanders disdained. Grandpa never bluffed; Manny called Baron on a bluff one time and Baron’s face grew beet-red with embarrassment! At any rate, Broadway Turk wouldn’t make much of an impact as a poker player on that particular sojourn.

I found out just how ornery he was on the ride to the airport. We stopped off at a department store and I saw a hat similar to his fedora and wanted to buy it for him. He declined, but I insisted, and I was going to pick it out when he caught my wrist in his version of the Iron Claw. It was either twist free or relinquish, and my Grandpa won out. I should have mailed him one afterward, but, that’s a stupid kid for you. At any rate, it was one of the most cherished visits of my life. I wish the one a couple of years later with Manny had been more pleasant, but that was when worlds collided and the generation gap appeared as an earthquake in our relationship.

That next year I visited my Aunt Marge, and my relationship with the Sanders clan was on the decline soon afterwards though I wouldn’t realize it until years later. She considered herself the leader of the clan though my cousin Brooks’ wife Gloria confided in me that she feared her older sister Brooks (no misprint, quite a popular family name). She was initially pleased as punch to meet me again after over a decade, and I hit it off famously with her husband Vernon. I also got on well with Brooks and his family, and we were scheduled for a family get-together at his property on Lake Dallas. He had made his fortune in the construction business and was the clan’s only legitimate millionaire before going bankrupt in the 90’s.

Manny nearly gagged when I turned down a proposal from Brooks to join his firm as a representative with his South American field office during a visit with us at the Waldorf-Astoria a couple of years earlier. Of course, my head was full of fantasies of NHL or wrestling stardom, and I thought the world was an oyster before me. What I never understood was why Manny didn’t jump in as quickly as he did with the writing school rep a couple of years before that. He could have told Brooks that we needed time to reconsider, and even shipped my ass out with parental authority. Well, that was Manny for you. Brooks never reached out again, even when I was desperate for help with Mom at my side and my Year Zero EP in hand during our reunion visit in 1979.  

My fatal error came one afternoon after a long talk the previous evening in which I told her of recent family hassles due to my mother’s drinking problem. We planned lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, leaving me to my lonesome as she went to have her hair done. I sucked up a half-case while listening to the Velvet Underground on her room-to-room stereo, writing a ballad called “Patti” about kidnapped newspaper heiress Patti Hearst (which had long since been misplaced and forgotten). When she finally got back I could barely read it back to her. She probably thought me quite the hypocrite, but should have seen the underlying problems. Yet I think it was more of a question of trying to stuff the skeletons back into the family closet.

The problem with the nouveau riche is that they think their crap don’t stink when, actually, what they fear and despise most about others is what they see deep inside themselves. That holds true for most people as I found through my psychiatric studies. This is why they marginalized my Uncle Vernon, a fine man who overcame his drinking problem. They kept him forever in the background at our reunions, and I spent most of my time there with him. Not the best way to score brownies with the Sanders clan.

Payback time came in 1985 at the Hyatts’ wedding which was hosted at the Abbotts’ home in Fort Worth. I drove up with Debbie Von and we saw my parents emerging from a vehicle in front of the house just as they arrived from the airport. As it turned out, Mom was three sheets to the wind, Manny chalking it up to her fear of flying. This, of course, I discredited as a crock of shit as Mom had been an amateur pilot who had earned her wings in flight school back in the 40’s. She ranted and raved throughout the short evening as I did my best to refrain from laughing my ass off as Aunt Marge somehow maintained her composure.

There were a couple more reunions after that, a last hurrah at Lake Dallas in 1979 and a mini-reunion at the Hyatts in Cloudcroft in 1992. I was definitely the black sheep at Lake Dallas though they seemed more comfortable with the stylish wiseguy in the business suit in Cloudcroft. I drove up to Fort Worth with Bobby Bulldozer for Uncle Vernon’s funeral in 1992 a couple of months before the Hyatt reunion, and would have shown for Aunt Marge’s funeral a few years later if Lea Shithead had taken the time to notify me. We were on the outs by then after a spat between Duane and me at my first wedding in 1995, but I think it was more of a case of her wanting to sabotage my connection with the Sanders clan worse than it already was.

Money was always a case of sour grapes with her. She was never a hoarder or a tightwad, but she always loved being around those who had money, and wasn’t overly happy when her peers had more than she did. That was the main reason she stayed close to Brooks Abbott. His wife Gloria was a lovely woman and a great person but was highly suspicious of males in the clan, some of whom had come on to her more than a couple of times. Their son Clay was a great little kid but I suspect he went the way of Thumper Hyatt as he matured. I know that Brooks worshipped the kid and most likely brought him into the business, which bankrupted a few years later. Geez, I wonder why. At any rate, Brooks even had the Shitheads out to his resort home in Lake Tahoe a few times before he went under. I’ll bet they didn’t do much visiting after he lost everything.

(To be continued...)

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Surrealistic Death?

There was quite a cast of characters during my time at ISO. The Special Rating Unit was run by George Burkitt, a widower who had a rep for total distraction around the holidays (which was when he lost his wife). Ironically, he was a part-time hockey coach and tried to bring his rah-rah philosophy to work, which failed miserably among the motley crew that staffed his office. Fred Federer was his blue-collar supervisor who was also driven to distraction by Jerome and I, his juvenile delinquents. Most of the problem came after noon, when we returned from our liquid lunches. Lily Snyder was another widower and alcoholic who ran the Special Multi-Peril unit as her personal fiefdom. Her assistant, Sue Swingle, was a cute girl with a killer body whose boyfriend, John Ventrell, was a bigger asshole than Jerome and I. When he finally quit, everybody hoped to hook up with Sue but she aspired to do better after Ventrell, with Lily as Cerberus guarding her gates.

I could not mention this interlude in my life without giving due thanks to Captain Crunch, Lorrie Macoline. She thought of herself as a surrogate mother to me and Jerome, though more often than not she played the flunky. She came out drinking with us more than a few times, and sometimes we would bring along her would-be suitor, Phil Hellgott. Phil was an unkempt Jewish guy who had a terrible body odor that he claimed was caused by a skin disorder. We thought hygiene had a lot to do with it and teased him unmercifully for it, though he was a pretty good ribber himself. Another guy who hung with us at coffee break but never made the rounds was Nick Piccininni. He had a lot of charisma and had two particularly lovely Italian sisters coming by his desk on a regular basis though he was just recently married. Nick, Jerome and I would exchange vicious race-oriented ribs on a daily basis which were absolutely hilarious back then, but would have got us fired in this politically correct day and age.

One of those aforementioned sisters, Lillian, was a lovely girl with an incredible figure. She had long black hair and pale skin that made her look like a beautiful vampire. One of our pals, Florence Erdman, said she had Mick Jagger lips that made her look like a fish, though I disagreed. Florence was a widow who I think had an eye for me. She had great legs along with the face of a bulldog. Nevertheless, she decided to set me up with Lillian at the office Christmas party after a few drinks. I found myself riveted in my seat as she walked over without even looking back, and introduced Lillian to…the Invisible Man! Florence ribbed me soundly after that one, and I kicked myself over and over for that monumental screw-up. Chalk up another one to my insecurity and mortal terror of rejection, something that would follow me all the way until I reached Missouri at the end of my game of life.

Lorrie, as it turned out, was a spinster living with her parents who actually tossed almost every one of her paychecks directly into her savings account. She brown-bagged her lunch and dressed off the rack, and we could see her talking to herself when something pissed her off. She was quite a character, but she changed our lives considerably when she started giving us small loans which we never had to pay back. She took us out to some of the best restaurants for lunch now and again. Though it cost a pretty penny, I know she was in her glory going to places she would have never set foot in, with a couple of wiseguys who ensured the most obsequious service. Eventually she cut Jerome out of the deal but continued helping me out, which improved my quality of life immensely. I never really got to thank her for all the handouts, but I know that the Lord must have blessed her life tremendously for her selfless giving to His blissfully naive soldier.

I was extremely fortunate in having been able to exert my genius to the betterment of the department, which is why they kept me around for four years. I used my speed-reading ability to pore through insurance policies with ease (this was two decades before PC’s became everyday office items…microfiche, anyone?), plowed through basic math premium adjustments at light speed, and wrote detailed analyses of entanglements between brokers and rating bureaus across the country that we were empowered to resolve. It was all child’s play for one of my genius, but again I found in the world of business, where it’s not what you know but who you know. Nevertheless, I fought my way up the corporate ladder, making it to the level of Commercial Property/Casualty Underwriter before getting the ax in a power struggle at an insurance wasteland a decade later.

Another mainstay in my post-Jets/pre-Spoiler timeframe was Alma’s uncle. Mingo Alindato was Nery’s brother who had recently gone on hiatus from the Merchant Marines. His chronic alcoholism caused him to plummet from a respectable seaman to a useless drunk, and eventually sent him over the brink into premature senility. When he first came to Brooklyn, we hit it off immediately and became close drinking buddies. Unfortunately, I was too naïve to realize that such friendships are built on such flimsy foundations as to eventually prove insubstantial. He was an ex-boxer, which greatly enhanced his status in my eyes, and was a helluva pool player who got better the more he drank. Our friendship didn’t go sideways until sometime later when he drank the money he had said he would use to take our long-planned trip to Puerto Rico. We remained friends until he left NYC for Puerto Rico in the early 70’s, never having seen or heard me with the Spoiler. He passed away in the Spring of 2011 and he is fondly remembered by all who knew him.

About this time, our downstairs tenants decided to pull up stakes, and I asked Mom to rent the apartment to me. Manny was against it, figuring that he would lose money by losing my income as a household member even though he was going to be collecting rent off me from then on. I insisted, however, and eventually I became his downstairs tenant. Had he known what ungodly noise he would be enduring from that apartment for the next decade thereafter, I think he just might have second-guessed himself. Yet, when I asked Mom about it many years later, she said it brought her peace because she always knew exactly where we were.

Shortly after I moved downstairs, Lea showed up at the door one afternoon, and who was she with but George Reyes. George had changed so much since I last saw him I barely recognized him. He had matured into a tall, dark, handsome fellow replete with Christ-like hair, beard and mustache. We sat down over a case of beer, reminisced about the old days, speculated on the new, and before you knew it I had a new roommate.

One of the first things I did was paint the tiny living room black and decorated it with drawings and graffiti in Day-Glo. When I hooked up my black light, it was a prototypical hippie-like head room. I christened it the Surrealistic Death, and it became not only a favorite neighborhood hangout spot but eventually the Spoiler’s war room. Of course, that was two years ahead, and my father must have wondered what would become of his only son and his downstairs apartment in the meantime.

Along with Mingo and Alma, the four of us spent most of our time raising hell and having great times barhopping around the neighborhood. We rode with Alma’s dad Ramon for a time as we had over the past year (I’d pay for the beer and gas), but he and Georgie did not get along well. Georgie eventually bought a used car and we had a set of wheels with which to raise hell throughout the summer, so Ramon faded from the picture.

Not that I didn’t remain close to the Merceds, who became like a second family. Alma’s mom Nery was like a big sister to me. When I began visiting NYC after my move to TX, after I arrived at my parents’ home the first stop I made was Nery’s apartment. I always brought a bottle of wine, and those were the only times she ever indulged. She was an expert seamstress and made the wrestling cape I wore to the ring in Columbia Street I and II. She also made a fantastic pair of midnight blue leatherette jeans that I treasured for years though I had long since outgrown the size 30 waistline. She was always one of my biggest supporters up until she died of cancer in 1999. I have no doubt that she will be among those awaiting my arrival at the Pearly Gates when the Lord Jesus calls me home.

Ramon was always quite a character, and seeing him again when I visit NYC is like I’d left him just yesterday. He has a fantastic sense of humor and spends his time telling anecdotes about people in his life. Though he can be quite an earful to some, I find him hilarious and can listen to him all day. Back in the day, everyone in the Merced-Alindato clan eagerly looked forward to holidays as Nery and Ramon were the best cooks in the neighborhood bar none. Ramon also kept a large supply of alcohol on hand, and one attended a feast when visiting the Merceds on holiday.

Ray (who we called Junior for most of his life until he became a Dad with grownup kids) was a 98-pound weakling as a kid, resembling yours truly at the same stage of development. He grew up to be a ladies’ man with a great personality who acted as our head roadie for years until his personal life led him to turn the spot over to Richie Morales with the Ducky Boys in 1981. He was one of those people whose social network was all over the place, and he was always quick to help others and everyone liked him. He was a spunky kid who could handle himself and enjoyed exchanging ribs with me and Zing during the Spoiler-Ducky Boy era. Our relationship matured into brotherly love over the years and I’d give my life for him anyplace, anytime.

 Hector was a spoiled brat who the Jets nicknamed Naked Nick over his penchant for tearing off his clothes and running around the apartment buck naked during his Terrible Twos. As Nery’s child of her maturity, she let him get away with blue murder, unlike the stringent rules Alma and Ray were under. He grew up to become the neighborhood tough guy, building his rep over the years until he finally made his bones by beating BT Superstar in a hardcore match on Butler Street on November 19, 2004.  He got into a brawl on a Miami street in 2009 which he was nearly killed, and his injuries have left him as a BSWC paper champion. Ironically, he remains one of the last of the old crowd in Brooklyn along with Alma, Suli Rock and Richie Morales. Terri Thunders got to meet them at our 2010 reunion and it was truly a memorable event.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Off To Work?

Graduation Day in June 1972 was one of many special occasions for the family as my parents began realizing that our days as a happy unit were growing numbered. Lea and our parents came out for the ceremony at Loughlin before Manny took us to the Greek Village near Madison Square Garden to celebrate. Harry Naegele, one of the older guys in my classes, crossed our paths on the way to the ceremony. Inexplicably, he began goofing on Manny’s white suit, calling him the Good Humor man. Why Manny or I didn’t call him out is still a mystery; I think we were caught way off-guard. In this day and age I would’ve cold-cocked him and let Manny bail me out. In retrospect, I’d wager that Harry’s Dad no-showed and left him mad at the world. It was just another example of how blessed I was by my Heavenly Father to have given me an earthly one as great as Manny. Anyway, we had a great time at a Greek nightclub afterwards, and it came as a portent of a great episode in my life to follow.
One of my Mom’s drinking buddies got me a job at a bank on Wall Street shortly thereafter, and I was in heaven with my $110 weekly salary. I got along great with my co-workers, and we began meeting after hours on Friday at the local saloon. It was during this time that I met a beautiful Greek girl I would never forget.
Pam Kagabines was, after Judy Emmick, definitely one that got away. She was one of the new trainees at the bank where one of Mom’s drinking buddies got me my first job. She was a beautiful Greek girl with an hourglass figure, thick black hair and emerald eyes. I thought she had eyes on Ray, a handsome Sicilian fellow who I made friends with. Our clique went drinking one Friday night and we got separated from the pack, going off on our own. We kissed and petted by the end of the night, and I escorted her all the way back to her home in Queens. I got double-crossed at the bank shortly afterward and was fired, but Pam and I saw each other once more before she went off to college. We exchanged letters but it didn’t seem that she was interested in keeping things rolling between us. Looking back, I think a little bit more persuasion on my part wouldn’t have hurt matters any. Chalk another one up to my chronic lack of self-confidence back in the day.
My Mom was seriously up my ass for the rest of the summer, not having the sense to realize that job markets dry up during the summertime. I finally got a job at Insurance Services Office after Labor Day, after which I let Mom know in no uncertain terms how I resented being hounded by her and Manny for not having found one sooner. She realized she had hit a raw nerve and never got on me for going jobless again, though Manny more than made up for it when I hit a couple of rough spots over the next couple of years.
Depression is one of the most common ailments among society that is finally being addressed here in the 21st century. Back in the day, one was simply seen as a lazy bastard feeling sorry for themselves when they got caught in a rut. What people back then failed to realize was the trauma people go through when they lose a job, or a loved one, or whatever other blessing they might have. I’m a firm believer in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, but I’m also a seasoned fighter who knows how hard it is to get up when slammed full-force to the ground.
Anyway, ISO was safe haven for four years, and if it wasn’t for the path the Lord had set for me, I would have thought I should have stayed there over different points in time. I met some good people there and had plenty of great times, but the best of these were with Jerome Browne. He was a veteran who had been drafted off the streets of Brooklyn and tossed onto the front lines in Vietnam. He wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree but had grown up quickly enough to find his way around most situations. He liked my attitude and I loved having him at my side, and he went along with just about anything I had in mind.
(To be continued...)