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...)