Wednesday, June 25, 2008

hood#3 At The Skylark

'hood#3 At The Skylark
Sunday mornings we ate at church – father Joey started very promptly at 10:00 and by 10:05 we’d given our order to Josie who was always our waitress (till she had her baby). Joey said Mass in place of Father Anthony and he would finish just as the eggs and pancakes hit the table. Sometimes we would need three booths, especially when the girls started coming. Bobby Seirs, one of us smooth 'Four Bloods' would never come to The Skylark until he heard the girls showed up and from then on he was a regular. Fact is, more girls came when they heard he was there. Bobby was probably the best looking guy in the ‘hood. He had that wavy hair and black leather jacket that looked just like Marlon Brandos jacket in the wild one motorcycle movie. Most of us guys surrounded Joey because most of the girls hung with Bobby were hoping for a date with him – or at least a good make out behind the casket company. There was a dark loading dock at the alley where if you wanted you could get down in the corner and not even a shadow could be seen of two people. I went there once with Marie but we didn’t stay ‘cause she’s got too much class and revolted at the thought of making love our first time at the back of some factory that made coffins – me, I wanted to stay
i'm itchin like a man on a fuzzy tree
my hands are shaky, my knees are weak
i can't seem to stand on my own two feet
i'm all shook up
…… well; we continued our search.

The Skylark was our church and Joey was our priest. Every Sunday he had something new to tell us attesting to the underlying truth that not all of us were there for the chicks. This particular Sunday's homily captivated Dominic because Joey’s pet fear about Sputniks in space was the topic. About a year after he was elected, John Kennedy had this meeting with Nikita Khrushchev about the two countries getting together on a space program. Well, the Russians were way ahead of us already and Nikita felt he shouldn’t be sharing space secrets. Now here’s the thing we didn’t know – and hardly anyone knew. After Nikita said nyet, Johns father, Joe Kennedy had a talk with Nikita’s father, Sergei Kruschev, and they came up with a strategy for putting pressure on Nikita. Shortly after the meeting in May of 1961, Congress got the message that “we should make it a national priority to land a man on the moon and return him to earth safely” and from that day forward JFK made a lot of speeches about a space program. We heard him say “No nation that expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space”. That’s how we came to have a “space race”. Nikita was pissed – he aimed some missiles at Cuba and JFK had to send up a militia. Nikita banged his shoe in protest and it was after that they began to talk about space again. How Joey ever found out about the Sergei meeting is still a mystery. Dominic reasoned it was probably alderman Marzullo.
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Marie was brought up in a very open-minded home. Her mom always encouraged her to do whatever made her feel both right and good. Her dad would talk to me about the civil rights movement and the freedom riders (shit, I was gonna graduate high school this year and didn’t he know he was making me feel bad because I wasn’t going south to join the protests - and did that make me a lesser person in his eyes)? This thought hurt me because I hung on this mans' every word.

Things were heating up again – John and his brother Bobby had Martin Luther King released from jail right after they got elected. JFK couldn’t do too much too quick because he figured that if he angered the Southern Democrats, the laws he wanted didn’t stand a chance in the Congress. Marie’s dad didn’t see it that way. He thought our new president was suddenly not supportive enough of civil rights activists. Me? When Marie came into the room I didn’t even know he was talking. It was Friday night and we were going to the dance at St. Michaels. She dressed in slacks and a white top and while revealing nothing, showed all of her beauty. She changed her hair every time we were going to dance. She would take its’ length all into one hand and put a rubber band around it and let it fall to a glorious shiny black pony tail.
The dances this year were bogus.
Every time Father Anthony could play something new, all he had was either Connie Francis or Ricky Nelson. The Twist by Chubby Checker and Runaway by Del Shannon were the only up-tempo songs of the year that hit the top of the charts. One of our favorites he still played was 'At The Hop' by Danny and the Juniors and we’d really hit the floor for 'Do You Want to Dance'. The rest of the new music for a couple of years was horrible; the only good thing about the dances at St. Michaels was slow-dancing with Marie. Some good ones for holding each other were 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' by the Shirelles and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight', by The King and almost anything by Sam Cooke – but please, NOT 'Cathy’s Clown' or 'Theme from a Summer Place'. So much crap was coming out that had a symphony orchestra playing a sound THEY called rock n' roll - they didn't even have one guitar!

Marie told me that all last year she had bought only one album (Elvis is Back) and two 45’s because music became submissive (I knew we were meant for each other)!
To think that Heart Break Hotel came out in ’56 and it took five years to get Dirty Dirty Feeling and It Feels So Right on an album. The 45 releases of these songs went nowhere because most radio stations wouldn’t play ‘em and the stores wouldn’t stock ‘em. And Father Anthony couldn’t play 'em cause he couldn't find where to buy 'em.
We were seventeen and seniors and had all this heavy shit to think about not the least of which was where are we going to college. We really didn’t want to talk about it and later on we found that it was best thing we could have done. Yes, JFK was making lots of speeches and many of us were inspired and thought this was what real leadership was about. I think a good example would be the speech that motivated Nikita. JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard”. The hardest things had nothing to do with the science of space and rockets - and real leadership had just been released from jail. The hardest thing was all about doing the right thing for “our fellow man”. That was one of Marie's dad's favorite phrases. We could see on the TV that the right things weren’t happening, yet it was so hard to know how to make it right. Marie’s dad was all behind the student sit-ins that began in 1960.
We saw students of all races marching and as they’d turn the corner, likely to be faced down by police commissioners and their cop cronies (who had dogs). After harassing the freedom riders during the day, the cops would abandon their posts so that those guys in white covering could have their turn. Yes, Mississippi was burning and the fed wasn’t doing the right thing either. JFK’s brother Bobby wiretapped Martin Luther King in ’61 in one of the only times he and the FBI guy J. Edgar Hoover ever talked.

What the fuck was goin on?

This was a ball of confusion wound as tight as that gordian knot. Hoover couldn’t find any Communist ties to Martin Luther King and it wasn’t till after Alabama that they stopped tapping his phone. But in 1961 came the first big time movement in Albany, Georgia? The Albany Movement hit the lunch counters, the libraries, the train stations; this was about much more than votes, this was about doing the right thing in so many ways. MLK was there, alright, but he left after one day. Marie's dad called ML every name in the book for abandoning Georgia and leaving the young people in the student non-violent coordinating community to take the heat: right when he could’ve helped. Her dad was really mad.
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Bobby Siers was hurt; badly – they took him to the hospital in an ambulance and there were three police cars in front of The Skylark. Joey and me were running across Cermak Road and we saw about twenty people already were there and more were coming. When I saw the blood on the sidewalk and heard the cops and my friends yelling at each other and saw Dominic get hit with a baton I was ready to jump in but Joey grabbed me right around my shoulders and turned me around. I bit hard my lip to focus my mind which was in rage right now, mostly because of Bobby’s blood.
Is he dead?
The Skylark regularly closed at ten p m because the neighborhood wanted all the kids home by curfew and the owner knew that cooperating with the men of the ’hood was the right thing to do. It was ten-twenty.
Bobby and Carm and Sandy were leaving for the casket company when three guys moved into their path. Both girls shouted out at them while Bobby kept his eyes moving from their eyes to their hands then one came flashing out silver slashing sharp toward his face catching his rising arm slitting his leather. He raised his leg and kicked right at the guy with the blade and another guy grabbed his retreating ankle and pulled Bobby down. That was it – stabbed three times. The bright lights from The Skylark preserved the red stain right next to where Carm held him on her lap while Sandy went back in to get help. Now Dominic was downed when he tried to go through the police line to care for his blood brother and only the fierce threatening looks from the cops kept the rest of us from jumping in. Out of the crowd came Carlo and he grabbed Tony Castellano and they peeled away in his 57 Chevy. The police were now putting up some rope and trying to disperse a growing crowd. Tomasino pushed his way to the sergeant and looked right at him and said “lay off, I’ll get everyone away”. You didn’t cross TEE, he was the man and his payback was swift and certain.
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I know today that no other love is found as easily as Marie and I found ours. There was this one song called 'At Last' by Etta James that talks about a love that has finally come – it was a lot like ours in one way; we still wait for the sexual expression of our love. Etta savors her newfound love and we get it when she says “life is like a song”. Her joy and our anticipation in harmony.

Bad blood flowed as red rivers in America - north and south.

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