Brushing myself off from that skirmish, I set out on a spiritual quest for truth, comparing different doctrines and even breaking bread (or shredded coconut) with the Hare Krishnas on Kane Street to learn more about the different manifestations of God across the earth. I even listened to some post-Beatles music from its ex-members to pick up something from their own spiritual quests. All I found was the alchemy of the Devil as he creates gold from garbage, to which it soon returns. I could still not find a Church home, but knew that as long as I stayed loyal to Christ as a soldier of God, everything would work together to His glory. In time, it most certainly did.
After that unforgettable summer of ‘73, I made a commitment to Scorpion Karate which laid the foundation for future events to come. Lea was dating one of the instructors at the club, John Pineda, who invited me by to work out a few times. With the lull in the action within the clique, I decided to give it a decent go this time. I saw myself as the John Saxon character in Enter the Dragon, even though the self-styled Creator, Alfonso Rivera, nicknamed me the Wrestler. I took to wearing my judo gi from Loughlin which was far more durable than my new karate jacket and much warmer throughout the Brooklyn winter.
My previous karate experience was entirely visual, coming from the kung-fu movies that were all the rage at the time. I remember throwing a kick at Mingo one time and he dumped me right on my ass! I also had a sparring match with one of the kids at the club shortly after joining, and he pulled up short of kicking my teeth down my throat. I had a long way to go, but I was a quick learner and made up ground in a short time. It got to the point where I was roughing up everyone in the club up to brown belt level. After I got jobbed out of a first-place trophy at a local tournament, I lost interest and began running classes of my own in my backyard and up at Strong Place Church. I got a yellow belt out of it, but would not progress until earning two brown belts over three decades later.
The clique was still styling and profiling in the ‘hood, and I was drifting away from my athletic pursuits once again until I found a good reason to keep myself in good shape. It came in the form of a beautiful blonde who would keep my rep as a ladies’ man (in the footsteps of my dad and Granddad before me) alive and well for time to come.
Judy Emmick was a lovely blonde from Connecticut whose ideal romance with the high-school soccer star was wrecked along with his car in a driving accident. Our chit-chat during business calls from ISO to Hartford Insurance led to personal mail that resulted in a couple of weekend trysts between us. People were astonished that I had been able to set up such a deal over the phone with such a beautiful woman, and, sadly enough, so was I. It was another sad example of me not believing in myself; elsewise, there would have been plenty more where she came from. I seemed to have been so afraid of failing in the forest that I did not focus on the individual trees. At any rate, Judy and I had a memorable time together before I bitterly realized that our ships would never continue in the same direction. She came from a different world, and her family and friends in Hartford would never accept a karate-fighting wiseguy wannabe, which is where I was at that point of time.
Unfortunately I was still caught between a rock and a hard place trying to reinvent myself. I continued to draw inspiration from the underworld bullies that captured my imagination (along with that of dozens of other would-be tough guys in the ‘hood), as well as the movie board-breakers who were all the rage in that day. Since I wasn’t about to risk my future carrying a gun around in NYC, I relied on a big 007 blade along with my martial arts tactics. Of course, none of this would help me realize any of my life ambitions, but I clung to what I had nonetheless.
Around this time I was studying my reflection in a subway train window and I was shocked to see signs of male pattern baldness. For someone with my fragile ego and sense of esthetics, it was a tragic situation, but suicide was not an option. It took Neysa Flores to help me deal with it thirty years later, but until then I spent my entire adult life violently protecting and defending my ‘condition’. In turn, it was all about Vitalis hair spray in public, BT’s Spitfire cap and Superstar’s black mask under the spotlight. If only a Neysa had come along and got me to shave it all off. Well, pride goeth before a fall, and only the Lord knows how many times I’ve fallen on bad hair days.
Looking back, it seems as if cutting my ties to Judy and coming to grips with my receding hairline brought me to a low point in time. Mind you, I had no serious plans for Judy, but having her out of the picture brought my romantic prospects back to ground zero. I was also faced with the possibility that I might not be as attractive or able to seek out partners as lovely as her (or better) in future. My hair did quite a bit to enhance my looks, and even in my forties I was still what the women considered ruggedly handsome. You could not have sold that notion to a kid in his early twenties, however, and I did not see my situation getting better any time soon.
With nothing but ISO and a martial arts degree in my immediate future, there was no doubt that I had to make something happen. Nonetheless, it seemed as if prospects were vanishing faster than looming on the horizon, and I knew I would have to make something happened soon if I were to amount to anything more than a senior rate clerk in the Special Rating Unit. 1973 was flashing before my eyes, and it looked like things were going to hell in a handbasket.
Little did I know that my hopes would soon be on the Rocks, as you shall see.
(To be continued...)