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...)