Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Judy In Disguise?

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...)

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Truth Shall Set You Free?

Going back to the Summer of ’72, it was an idyllic time with the Cat Pack, which was Georgie, Alma, Mingo and Jerome Browne, along with assorted guest stars which included future Leatherettes Sonia Martinez and Mary Vasquez, as well as Ramon Merced and Marvin “Mad Dog” Brown. The reason I call it the Cat Pack is because we spent most of our time lazing about bars and lounges, spending lots of money to be pampered by bartenders and barflies. We had lots of good times, but there was one more member that truly made it a summer to  remember.

Around that time, Alma’s aunt came up from Puerto Rico, and for a time she was my main squeeze. Carmen was a widow who happened to be the youngest sister of Nery, Mingo and the rest of the Alindato clan. She must’ve been in her late thirties when she came to visit the Merceds, and it was a summer I would never forget. She was another woman with the lovely face and hourglass figure I kept coming across, but she was reluctant to get involved with such a younger guy (they would’ve called her a cougar by today’s standards). She made my blood race but, as a young dumbass, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. We messed around with one another but I blew every opportunity until she returned to PR, never to return. Over a decade later she was bitten by a poisonous insect and had her arm amputated, after which she died of a broken heart. It was a terrible tragedy and I only hope she was right with the Lord when she left us.                    

We caroused everywhere, from Flatbush Avenue (Jerome’s turf) to Hobnails in Bay Ridge (where Sue Swingle from ISO hung out), Brooklyn Heights to Red Hook, and Wall Street to Greenwich Village. We spent money like no tomorrow and closed countless bars after 4 AM. We still had Mary Vasquez, a cute albino girl who would later (along with Alma and Sonia) become one of the original Leatherettes, and Marvin “Mad Dog” Brown, a lowbrow Jewish fellow who was one of the supervisors at ISO. He had an exaggerated duckfooted walk, perpetually toked his cherry pipe, and had a knack for tossing off outrageous one-line insults and remarks as quick as I did. All in all, we were quite the motley crew, and sadly enough, it was all too good to last.

After Carmen left for Puerto Rico, Georgie discovered marijuana and slowly began drifting towards that kind of crowd. He started missing work and quit helping with the bills, and after one hiatus he returned days later to find his bags neatly packed for him. We remained friends but eventually he went back to PR and was never seen again. The rest of us remained weekend warriors but we weren’t as far and widespread as we had been with Georgie and his jalopy.

Unfortunately I would see the same psychological scarring that Kenny displayed a couple of years later when we crossed paths. Georgie was remote and had little allegiance to anyone or anything. He probably was as close to me as anyone else he knew, and I think that said a lot. I did everything I could to help him fit in, but sometimes those neuroses are so ingrained over time that nothing makes a dent. He put up a wall and would let no one in, plain and simple.

He left on a real sour note when I found that he and the boyfriend of the previous occupant of my apartment broke into the top floor apartment rented by Carlos and Tita Franchesci. They were an attractive couple who I really liked, though Carlos had a rep for running around on Tita. She was a sexy redhead built like a brick outhouse. He had made a few remarks about her putting on too much weight, but for the life of me I never saw a problem. I fantasized about her for years but never did more than interrupt her pre-shower time by bringing up her mail when she came home from work. Plus, I liked Carlos a lot, and it really pissed me off when I found out what Georgie did. Still, I always thought of Georgie as a brother and forever will.

It was around that time that I came to a major religious crossroads in my life that would leave its scars but eventually lead to one of the most profound spiritual epiphanies of my life. I began studying with a Jehovah’s Witness named Carlos (yep, another one), and he was one of the meekest men I’ve ever met though ablaze with fervor for the sect. Alma began studying with us and he brought us in about as deep as one can go without making a commitment. He was painstaking in his research, as was the entire Watchtower organization, whose world headquarters is in Brooklyn Heights alongside Suicide Hill. That was our name for a very steep downhill block along Hicks Street leading to a highway underpass, which the only most reckless cyclists would dare to attempt. At any rate, we were deep in Witness territory and barely managed to escape.

They were the ones who first exposed the Roman Church to me as the prophetic Babylon of the Apocalypse. They saw themselves as the One True Church, and even considered all Protestant religions as Christendom. They explained how all the Christian holidays had pagan connections as designed by the Vatican, and painstakingly proved it so that Alma and I stopped celebrating them entirely. It wasn’t until my first marriage, over twenty years later, before I celebrated another Christmas. We were sinking in as if in quicksand, and the only thing that kept us from being submerged was my absolute faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

You see, the Witnesses believe in Jesus as ‘a’ son of God as opposed to THE Son of God. They are strict monotheists who recognize no doctrine proving a Blessed Trinity. Their Douay-like Bible spells the Holy Ghost in small letters, denying there is such a Person, seeing Him only as God’s ‘active force’. This was causing major discord in my soul, and Carlos decided to write out a ten-page discourse showing how, chapter and verse, Jesus was not God and there was no Holy Ghost person.

It was the Holy Ghost Himself who refused to let that happen. He yanked my heart strings so violently that I felt as if I was denying God Almighty, which, in fact, I would have been. Try as he might, Carlos could not dissuade me from believing in the Deity of Christ, and I told him so before we finally parted ways. When I made my declaration, I was overcome by a wave of Holy Ghost power that fully assured me I had made the right choice.

It was no coincidence that the Witnesses were at the pinnacle of their influence around the world. They had some hardcore ministers who were at the top of their game, taking the planet by storm, and their sect was growing by leaps and bounds. My suspicion was that many more Christians besides myself were being taken to the arena worldwide, and the Holy Ghost acted mightily to cut through the darkness with the Sword of Truth, which is the Word of God. They began peaking by the end of the decade, and by the time I rededicated myself to the ministry in the 90’s, they were just another sect of eccentrics.

One thing I can pass on to Christians struggling with their faith: the Truth will always prevail in making itself known. Believers should never avoid debate, discourse or false doctrine in asserting the veracity of the Word of God. Regardless of how impeachable evidence appears to the contrary, the Truth will always win out. The fact of the matter is that the Bible (in its most authentic King James version) is absolute Truth, and if one part of it is false, then the entire document collapses. This is why so many books were edited out of the Scripture when the Holy Ghost directed the compilation under King James. Scholars from around the world were brought together to research and compare every Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek document known to man in order to piece together the unbroken and perfect Word of God. It is the complete Old Testament of the Hebrews, preserved over six thousand years, together with the New Testament of the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul and the writings of the Apostles. It is a perfect Book with no inconsistencies, and any and all that contradict it have been long since discarded. With such a weapon in one’s arsenal, how can one ever fail in battle against the dark side?

(To be continued...)