“The Bowling Ball Caper”
I was acutely aware of how cunning Goose Restuccio’s devious mind really was. He wasn’t academically brilliant by a long shot, but he was extraordinarily gifted when it came to being street’ wise. The crafty kid and his Daddy’s henchmen had made Speed Mortellite and Gabe Gillette look like rank amateurs in the Midway Diner.
The following Monday G.R. approached me at my S-Wing locker before homeroom. Juice Illiani and Fabian Midilli were complaining and telling me all about the mediocre-time they had had with their dates at the formal Cotillion.
“You moron guys shoulda’ been with J.W. and me last night,” Goose began. “We beat Speed Mortellite and Gabe Gillette in the coolest seven-mile race ever, and then we set them up for a state trooper at the Midway Diner. Let me tell ya’ two Bozos, it was better than getting laid eighty times.”
“Goose, stop exaggeratin’,” I said, “because if any guy did it eighty times he’d have to die from dehydration, exhaustion and from loss of fluids.”
“Wow!” Juice howled. “You two oughta’ wear army uniforms loaded with medals and ribbons. You’re big time operators now! Wait ‘til everyone hears about how you handled Gillette and Mortellite. You guys will be local legends.”
“Hey Goose, when are we gonna’ join the Reds?” Sal asked. “We better be organized ‘cause pretty soon those Blues are gonna’ hit us with everything they got.”
“I thought about that, you dingle’ berries,” Goose chided, “and I’ll give ya’ all the details at lunch.”
I couldn’t wait for the school clocks to advance to noontime, fifth period lunch. First period gym was all right with Mr. Zardas teaching us how to use the parallel bars and how to safely dismount from the trampoline. In second period Western Civilization Miss Hunter discussed ancient Mesopotamia and the “Fertile Crescent” between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers forming the “Cradle of Civilization,” which generated the development of cuneiform writing on clay tablets.
I got a laugh from Miss Hunter after I raised my hand and told her that many Mesopotamians didn’t like to swim in one of the rivers, and the king called them “you fraidy-cats,” and that the Mesopotamians who spoke too much too often were called Babblelonians. And when I said that a Fertile Crescent was a sword that reproduced easily, then poor Miss Hunter and her class could hardly stop laughing.
Third period U.S. History with Mrs. Murphy went by without a hitch. I got a chuckle from the instructor when I related that the south had sent several incompetent spies up to a Massachusetts river looking for ironclad clues on how to monitor the Merrimack. Of course, Bo Jalonec’s material worked quite well when he was not around to outshine me with his outlandish witticisms. I stayed in a gleeful mood until the next class, which I dreaded more than the Blues.
In fourth period trigonometry I kept my mouth sealed and tried listening to Mr. Andrews discuss the principal esoteric distinctions between the secant and the cosecant. ‘I think Mr. Andrews needs Goose to take him to that swanky Atlantic City bordello to get his mind off of all this nonsensical advanced math crap,’ I whimsically contemplated.
Finally fifth period cafeteria rolled around, and after getting my serving of hamburger on a bun with French fries and baked beans I joined News, Juice, Fabian, Jives and Goose at our usual table.
“What’s new News?” I asked in a jovial voice.
“Well, J.W., as you might know Jack Parr walked off the ‘Tonight Show’ last month when NBC censored one of his jokes,” T.T. informed. “He just returned to the show last night.”
“Then it would have to be ‘The Last Night Show’ and not ‘The Tonight Show’,” Juice interrupted. “Television programs are entirely too confusing for the public to understand.”
“And the play ‘Thurber Carnival’ opened at the ANTA Theater in New York last week,” News related. “The show is based on author James Thurber’s works.”
“Hey, we read some of his stories in Mrs. Waldon’s eighth period English IV class,” Fabian recalled. “The ones about the family dogs were pretty neat.”
“Yeah, Thurber’s crib’ stories are above Howdy Doodyville,” Jives concurred, “and Hollywood’s gonna’ make a few of the bosser ones into flicks.”
“Holly Wood?” I injected. “Isn’t she Natalie Wood’s younger sister?”
“Hey News,” Juice yelled to his pal across the table, “who won the Winter Olympics over in Squaw Valley?”
“Russia won the most gold medals, Sweden was second and the U.S. came in third,” Tommy glumly reported.
“There must be plenty of papooses in Squaw Valley,” I joked, “and you would think that the Polish would have easily won the Winter Olympics since they have a lot a skis at the end of their last names.”
“Where do ya’ think of all this silly-ass happy horse shit?” Goose wanted to know. “J.W., if the school has a Mr. Stupid Contest, be sure to enter it!” Restuccio added, showing an excess of fake dissatisfaction.
Then Goose feigned being serious for a minute. He said he had been speaking to Edgewood seniors Jack “Hoss” Gregorio, Moose Marinella and Chickie Calabrese about News sponsoring the guys at our cafeteria table into the Reds, but according to G.R., we had to pass an initiation test to fully qualify for bona fide membership.
“What sort of initiation test?” Juice asked. “I’ll try it as long as it doesn’t involve murder, adultery or suicide.”
“Ya’ can’t commit adultery, Dumb-ass!” Goose reprimanded. “Ya’ ain’t even married yet!”
“But I could be forced to have sex with a married woman!” Johnny challenged.
“Then Shit-head,” G.R. said, “it would be adultery for the guy’s wife but only dumb-ass sex for you!”
“Keep your wild and crazy sperm in your stupid little worm and you’ll have nothin’ to sweat because you’ll be outa’ debt,” Jives eloquently injected.
Goose, becoming weary of the zany adolescent conversation, held his hands over his head for silence. Soon we all adhered to and honored his benign intention. The tall stocky Sicilian told us to meet him at Joanne’s Luncheonette next to the Rivoli Theater at six-thirty that night where he would divulge the particulars of the Reds initiation activity.
That evening News picked up Juice, Fabian, Jives and me and then drove his red and white Ford Fairlane to Bellevue Avenue, where he parked “the wheels” behind the Rivoli Theater. We exited the ‘57 and strolled the block to Bellevue. I looked up at the movie house marquee and observed that a double’ feature, Gigi and Around the World in Eighty Days were playing.
“Ya’ can tell the movie industry is getting’ hard up when two big films can’t fill the theater,” I commented. “The Rivoli’s seen better days.”
“You said it,” News agreed. “Television is beatin’ the crap out of small town movie houses all over the country. It’s just a matter of time until the Rivoli’s death bell tolls.”
The five of us entered Joanne’s Luncheonette and soon sat down at the establishment’s main table that Goose had reserved for our scheduled parley. I surveyed the cozy place to see if I knew any of the other clientele.
“Glad to make the scene,” Jives indicated to Ronald Restuccio. “Ya’ got some good words for these bird turd pals of mine?”
Ronald Restuccio reiterated that he was now determined to join the Reds only because the Blues had dumped a thousand pounds of frozen blueberries into his T-Bird at Palace Diner and the rich hooligans had slashed his two front tires in the peach orchard at White Horse Farm. He said he had cleared “the covert commando project” with the Reds Executive Committee, and that once it would be completed all six of us would be eligible for our Reds’ induction.
“But what do we gotta’ do?” Juice insisted. “Why all of the suspense as if it’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or some crazy program like that?”
Before Goose could reveal the elements of “the covert commando project” Babs De Stefano came over to take our orders.
“Hey Babs,” Goose greeted, “did you know that J.W. here lives on the White Whores Pike because he doesn’t like colored hookers! And he likes beef jerky, especially when it’s in the palm of his right hand!”
“You’re very rude, crude and uncouth,” Babs accurately said, “and the only reason I put up with ya’ is because you’re a great tipper.”
“What’s the matter Babs?” Goose asked. “Your tits been eaten away by your livin’ bra? Try goin’ without one for a change.”
The waitress knew better than to answer Goose’s general lack of discretion. She simply stood beside our table and held her order pad in her left hand and her trusty yellow pencil in her right.
“Forgive him Babs,” I said, “but Goose often acts like he needs to go to finishing school because he’s never finished insultin’ people.”
“J.W., when are ya’ gonna’ evolve from pure diarrhea into a bona fide solid turd?” my newfound critic suggested.
“Do ya’ have any sweet dough?” I asked Babs.
“Naaa,” Babs said, “and if ya’ want dildo, ya’ gotta’ go to one of them perverted sex shops in Philly’.”
I cleared my throat as the other fellows all laughed. I politely ordered two slices of pizza and a large Pepsi, and the other guys all calmed down and acted more sophisticated by exhibiting acceptable luncheonette table manners. All of us were more interested in our proposed initiation rites than we were in harassing innocent clever waitresses in friendly eating establishments.
After Babs De Stefano left our company, Goose went on a tangent by saying that most people were merely brainless “crabs in a bushel.” He expounded that folks in our great American society are trapped inside a giant imaginary bushel and are crawling over each other and are crapping on each other’s heads attempting to escape to economic freedom.
“J.W., I’m really outa’ the friggin’ bushel you crabs are still trapped in,” Goose intimated, “but I gotta’ still pretend I’m an ass-hole crab too until I finally get the hell out of that goddamned high school.”
“Don’t ya’ wanta’ play any sports?” Juice inquired.
“Sports are just a distraction created by schools and society,” G.R. replied, “and they’ve been created to keep kids from doin’ what their instincts tell ‘em they oughta’ be doin’, getting laid and getting drunk. That’s the whole gig in a wrapper.”
I then related to the guys the Dairy DeLite telephone booth caper that my Diablo friends and I used to employ against unsuspecting Feed Bag’ restaurant waitresses. Goose seemed fascinated with the fantastic technique, and I explained the entire methodology in detail. “Just say over the phone that ya’ have a crazy name like Peter Small,” I stated, “and the rest of the prank falls into place.”
Goose Restuccio figured that he would aggravate Babs some more with his unpolished crudeness. The young barbarian ambled outside to a Bellevue Avenue’ telephone booth and called Joanne’s Luncheonette on the horn. Naturally, Babs answered the phone in a semi-courteous voice.
“Hello, I’d like a large tomato and cheese pizza to go,” G.R. specified while disguising his baritone, “and put on loads of pepperoni, too!”
“What’s your name?” the waitress requested.
“Peter Small,” Goose professionally and confidently uttered.
A thought germinated inside Babs’s head. A light turned on and a red flag went up. “Well,” she yelled into the telephone, “if you’re Peter Small, maybe ya’ oughta’ consider some kind of sex operation to make the tiny thing bigger!”
Goose Restuccio adamantly slammed down the telephone onto the hook inside the booth. The five of us had heard Babs’s remarkable oration and we burst out into a boisterous roar when we noticed G.R. experiencing extreme frustration outside in the phone booth. The defeated victim trudged back into the luncheonette with his head down and a disappointed look upon his already distorted face.
“I ain’t tellin’ ya’ damned guys nothin’ about the Reds’ initiation until ya’ follow me over to my place,” he dejectedly informed us. “By then I will have gotten over bein’ outsmarted by some cheap dollar an hour luncheonette broad.”
The rest of us knew that Goose was livid since he never said another word until it was time to pay the check. News started describing how Missouri Democratic Senator Stuart Symington claimed the American public was being misled about the U.S.-Russia missile gap, but T.T. could easily tell that the rest of us weren’t too enthusiastic about his chosen topic of conversation. “It’s mostly political anyway,” Tommy admitted, “since we have a Republican President sittin’ in the White House.” Then everyone forked-up his own share of the bill, where ordinarily, Goose would insist on being the head’ honcho by covering the entire tab.
The six of us departed Joanne’s Luncheonette with “The All-American Boy” by Bill Parsons blasting from the jukebox speakers. The lyrics made me think of the six young warriors about to perform some “commando” prank or trick to be eligible to enlist in the Reds’ gang, which was the high-school equivalent of joining a college fraternity.
“Back in Levittown,” I said, “ya’ had to do somethin’ to the police before ya’ could join a greaser gang.”
“We got four hours to kill before the initiation project,” Goose told us, “so I’m gonna’ treat you freaks to a double feature at the Rivoli. Then we’ll be ready to officially become Reds around midnight.”
The six of us sat through Gigi and most of Around the World in Eighty-Days. Several of us had been napping out of boredom, but then our host awoke Juice, Fabian, Jives and me and informed his sleepy listeners that it was finally time to desert the half-full theater.
G.R. was also parked in the half-empty lot behind the Rivoli Theater, and without saying a word Goose motioned for News to follow his T-Bird in the red and white ‘57 Fairlane.
“Where does Goose live?” I asked.
“On Mallard Lane!” Juice laughed. “We’re gonna’ take a gander of his place soon.”
“Real funny,” I evaluated. “Now try bein’ a little more candid.”
“Over past Rosedale a mile after Angelo’s Store,” Johnny conveyed a little more sincerely. “It’s sort of a miniature palace, and being an only child, he’s sort of the prince.”
News followed G.R. west on Egg Harbor Road and then we passed Angelo’s Store. “We’re officially in Rosedale now,” the driver related. “And Rosedale’s not what that Orson Welles guy kept on saying at the end of the Citizen Kane movie.”
Everyone ignored T.T.’s anemic attempt at being funny. We all had News pegged as a serious scholar and anything else seemed drastically out of character for him. Duane Eddy’s “Rebel’-Rouser” was playing on WIBG Philly’ Radio 99, and we all sensed that the instrumental tune portended some soon-to-be-known nefarious “commando-activity” on our part.
News followed Goose’s T-Bird into a long narrow paved driveway that led around several bends of pine and deciduous trees. G.R. stopped his white ‘60 beside his magnificent house, a red brick and stone two-story mansion that only the most successful corporate executives and Mafia’ dons could afford.
Our project organizer signaled for us to follow him to the rear of the property. A large white box truck was parked in front of the expensive estate’s three-car garage. Goose opened the back panels and instructed his four fellow-inductees plus News to “hop inside.”
“We’re we goin’?” I queried.
“You’ll find out when we get there,” G.R. declared. “It’ll all make sense in about half-an-hour.”
The five prospective riders one by one grabbed a side support, lifted a leg onto a steel-stepping frame, and helped one another into the huge empty storage compartment. Our eyes scanned both left and right walls and saw five empty racks on each side from knee to shoulder’ height, each rack a foot above the one under it.
“Okay guys,” Goose instructed, “next stop is Egg Harbor, thirty minutes from here.” Then the secretive kid closed the dual panels and locked us in darkness.
“What the hell does he have in mind?” Sal asked.
“I only hope we’re joinin’ the Reds and not the Mafia,” I replied. “I’m too young to own a death certificate!”
“We’ll know in thirty minutes,” News said in the pitch-blackness. “The suspense is killin’ me, and I’m already a Red.”
The truck’s ignition was started and soon we rumbled to a halt at the end of Goose’s curvy driveway. He turned left onto Route 561, zipped through Rosedale and stopped next to the Fairview Avenue’ railroad tracks.
“We’re in Hammonton,” News alertly imagined and reported. “Of course, I’m just goin’ along for the ride to help you guys out.”
“Yeah, we just crossed the tracks,” Jives agreed, “and if we get killed, at least we won’t havta’ D.D.T.”
“D.D.T.?” Fabian wondered aloud. “Isn’t that some sort of insecticide?”
“No Stupid,” Jives corrected, “D.D.T. is an abbreve. for ‘Drop Dead Twice’!”
Our route was easily familiar to the six passengers in the cargo compartment. “We’re heading east on Egg Harbor Road,” Juice described, “and now we just passed Bellevue and we’re goin’ east toward the Pike.”
On our dark trip to Egg Harbor City, News began talking about Felton Turner, a twenty-seven year-old black Houston, Texas resident that had been beaten with a tire iron and then hung upside down from an oak tree in a racial hate’ incident. “The initials KKK were carved with a knife on his chest by four masked teenagers protestin’ the sit-down strikes that black students are havin’ at Texas Southern University,” T.T. disclosed.
“Well, who really gives a flyin’ fart!” Jives challenged. “What’s that got to do with this mysterious Egg Harbor gig?”
“Guys, Goose hates black kids. Ya’ heard him call Tyrone Davis an eggplant in Italian in the Edgewood cafeteria,” News equated. “Maybe he’s plannin’ to use us five guys the same way those four masked thugs nearly crucified Felton Turner upside down. Of course, I’m already a Red and I’ll refuse to participate.”
“If that’s what the rest of us gotta’ do to become Reds,” I answered, “then I’m either walkin’ or I’m hitchhikin’ back to Hammonton’.”
Twenty minute later we all felt the box truck slide to the right off the highway onto the road’s shoulder and then ease several hundred feet straight ahead. After turning left, Goose slowly advanced a hundred or so feet and then gently applied the brakes. A minute later the back panels were again opened and the stars and moon were visible in the cold clear March night sky.
“Welcome to Egg Harbor City, the other armpit of New Jersey besides Hammonton,” Goose greeted, “and especially welcome to Egg Harbor Lanes in Egg Harbor City to be exact.”
“What are we doin’ after midnight at a bowling alley in Egg Harbor?” I demanded. “Why couldn’t we have just gone to DiDonato’s in Hammonton at eight o’clock instead of wasting out time watchin’ Gigi and Around the World in Eighty Days?”
“Because Shit-head,” Goose arrogantly said, “we’re gonna’ break into this cornball dump that doesn’t have a bar and a late night crowd, steal all of the freakin' bowlin’ balls, and stack them neatly on the racks in back of this white truck. Then we’re gonna’ take the stolen balls back to Hammonton.”
“Why are we gonna’ do that? What does this theft have to do with becomin’ a Red?” I inquired.
“Are you thick or what?” G.R. nastily replied. “We’re takin’ the bowlin’ balls back to Hammonton to use ‘em against the Blues. That’s where you come into the picture, J.W. We gotta’ come up with some cool scheme usin’ these stolen Egg Harbor’ bowlin’ balls in Hammonton,” Goose declared. “Now Fabian, you’re supposed to be mechanical. Here’s a key I got from my Pop that opens all doors anywhere. Use it to break into this friggin’ place right now.”
Fabian Midilli reluctantly accepted the marvelous key from Goose, and we all followed the mechanical wizard to the back entrance. In less than a minute Sal had uncorked the lock and soon the back door to Egg Harbor Lanes had been swung open. It was cold and dark inside so Goose supervised the heist with his small flashlight, it being the only source of illumination in the entire building.
“Ya’ guys can carry two balls at a time, one in each hand,” he grumbled. “There’s about two hundred bowlin’ balls in this damned place, so I figure four of ya’ only have to make about fifty trips back and forth to the truck. I say four of ya’ because one guy’s gotta’ stay on the truck and stack the balls neatly in the side racks.”
Jives volunteered to be “the stacker” so that meant that Juice, News, Fabian and I had to scurry back and forth with two bowling balls a round trip while Goose supervised and criticized our mischievous ongoing endeavor. “Don’t make any noise,” G.R. commanded. “I don’t have too much influence with the Egg Harbor cops!”
After an hour of assiduous labor the five of us had worked-up heavy sweats. Perspiration was dripping down my chest and down my back under my wool sweater and my heavy winter coat. I was glad when the “commando job” had been completed. The five passengers slowly clambered back into the white truck’s rear compartment and then Goose closed the panels and again locked us inside.
On the trip back to Hammonton, the cargo riders were all exhausted and weary.
“We just committed a major felony, grand larceny!” News panted. “I didn’t have to do anything when I joined the Reds.”
“I don’t know if becomin’ a Red is worth it if we gotta’ spend some serious time in jail,” Juice added.
“Penn State has much more appeal than State Pen does,” I giddily giggled in the pitch-black enclosure as I imitated a Bo Jalonec one-liner. My four companions also felt tired and silly and laughed in response to my goofy parallelism. Thirty minutes later the “Bowling Ball Express” pulled into Goose’s serpentine driveway.
When Ronald Restuccio re-opened the rear transport vehicle’s doors the five occupants were in for the shock of our lives.
“Surprise!” screamed a dozen voices in unison. Standing below us were Edgewood kids Goose Restuccio, Jack “Hoss” Gregorio, Little Joe Gregorio, Denny “Baker” Harrison, Guy “Moose” Marinella, Chickie and Joey Calabrese, Tony Passarella, Marty Ransom and Pete Clarke. They were accompanied by St. Joe’ High Reds Dave “Herc” Juliano, Jake “the Brute” Maccarella and Ollie “Balls” Giordano.
“What the hell is goin’ on here?” Juice yelled down at Goose.
“Notice that the guys are all wearin’ the Reds’ zip-up jackets like the one James Dean wore in that movie Rebel without a Cause,” G.R. pointed out. “Great idea J.W. about the jackets! I bought them all at the Berlin Auction last week.”
All of the full-fledged Reds clad in their new bright red jackets wildly cheered their approval. After being praised by Goose I felt a little like a minor celebrity.
“News, here’s your new jacket,” G.R. hollered as he tossed up to Tommy his official James Dean’ apparel.
“But Goose, what about the two hundred stolen bowlin’ balls?” I shouted. “We’re all gonna’ be thrown in the clinker!”
The dozen Reds again let out a very loud hoot as if I had just scored a touchdown or hit a home run. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of their raucous reaction.
“Not really, J.W.,” Goose disagreed above the levity. “Ya’ see, those two hundred bowlin’ balls were not stolen like ya’ thought they’ve been,” G.R. laughed. “I actually bought them from the Egg Harbor Lanes’ owner the other day at a big discount, three dollars each. He’s getting’ a new supply delivered tomorrow morning. So, you five guys did some cheap labor for me tonight, and all it cost me was the price of five movie tickets!”
“Then we’ve passed our initiation and we’re officially in the Reds?” Juice yelled down.
“Not exactly,” Goose answered. “That won’t happen until after J.W. schemes up some clever things to do to the Blues with these two hundred bowlin’ balls.”
“News, were you in on this crazy trick?” I wondered and asked.
“I ain’t even tellin’ the priest in confession,” Tommy shrewdly answered.
Fabian, Juice, Jives and I looked at each other in sheer bewilderment. Then Goose summarized everything that had occurred by saying, “Guys, the Reds have now officially admitted me into their ranks because I have gotten them two hundred bowlin’ balls for free.”
“Hoss” Gregorio threw an “extra” red James Dean jacket over the crazy Sicilian’s shoulders. “Goose, welcome to the Reds!” he said.
“Thanks Hoss for the jacket I bought for myself at the Berlin Auction,” Goose immodestly replied.
“Vineland versus Hammonton”
I was more than slightly jealous after I realized that Goose had become an authentic Red before Juice, Fabian, Jives or me even received formal invitations to join the peach fraternity. Hoss Gregorio, Little Joe and the other Reds had shunned Goose only several weeks before his emergence as their strategic ally and Blues’ adversary. Then Restuccio had blueberries dumped inside his hallowed T-Bird, had his front tires slashed while he was committing blatant vandalism to the White Horse, outwitted Speed Mortellite and Gabe Gillette in the bizarre Midway Diner’ adventure, and ultimately bribed the Reds’ allegiance with two hundred vintage bowling balls. All of a sudden, Goose Restuccio had transformed from lousiest leper in the colony to living legend.
Before homeroom the following Monday in March I ventured into the S-Wing Boys Lavatory. I heard someone singing the lyrics to the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” from inside a bathroom toilet stall as I went about the mundane business of draining my radiator into a urinal. ‘That song sounds pretty good,’ I thought as I was responding to nature’s call. The melodious singing continued while I zipped-up my pants, flushed the urinal, and mechanically washed and then dried my hands. Just when I was about to leave the washroom, the toilet flushed, the stall opened, and a stout black kid stepped out from the enclosure.
“Hey, aren’t you the guy that had words with Goose Restuccio in the cafeteria?” I asked.
“Yeah, I got suspended because that retard called me a….”
“A mool-in-yon,” I finished. “It means eggplant in Sicilian.”
“You’re his friend, ain’t ya’?” the stocky kid inquired.
“Well, sort of,” I replied rather tentatively. “But I can definitely say that Goose Restuccio is not my best Edgewood friend. My name’s J.W.,” I expressed, extending my right hand.
“I’m Tyrone Davis,” the muscular black kid hesitantly said while giving me a firm vice-like grip during the handshake.
I commended Tyrone on his stellar singing voice and my new acquaintance related that he and four of his black buddies were forming a new Doo-Wop singing group, the Marvelons. Then Tyrone revealed that he and his friends were searching around for a manager who could “get us a few gigs to get rollin’,” so naturally, being naively entrepreneurial in a heartless predatory free enterprise system, I volunteered my services.
“That’s real cool,” Tyrone admitted. “Ain’t never been no good friends with a whitey before, but ya’ all seem okay to me. See ya’ around school, J.W.”
“See ya’,” I said, and after the two of us exited the lavatory, Tyrone turned, looked me in the eyes and again thanked me for offering to be the Marvelons’ manager.
No sooner had my new pal disappeared into the crowd of students down the S-Wing corridor to my right that Goose Restuccio approached and accosted me. He was embittered at my cordial association with Tyrone Davis.
“Hey J.W., what the hell ya’ sharin’ your space with a nigger for, especially with that nigger!” he criticized.
“He’s a kid that seemed pretty friendly to me,” I replied, “and just because he’s your enemy, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily got to be mine, too!”
“Look J.W., if ya’ wanta’ be a nigger-lover, that’s your goddamned business,” Restuccio hypothesized and stated, “but if ya’ wanta’ be my paison and be a nigger-lover too, then that’s not ever gonna’ happen in a million years. Stop soundin’ like you’re a freakin’ liberal Democrat runnin’ for President. Ya’ sound like ya’ want your pecker carved on Mt. Dickmore, or somethin’!”
Goose turned his back to me and paced down the S Corridor toward his M-Wing homeroom. I thought about his discriminatory remarks and concluded that I would prefer being Tyrone Davis’s friend than a colleague of Goose Restuccio, if it weren’t for G.R.’s magic bankroll that had already baled me out of several very tight jams involving the Gem’s front window and Mrs. Murphy’s car vandalism. ‘He’s a conceited jerk that’s swindled my loyalty,’ I pathetically concluded.
At seven p.m. that March night News, Juice and Fabian picked me up at my place in Sal’s ‘59 white Chevy Impala. I was glad to be out with three of the best-looking Edgewood guys and temporarily away from the negative influence of Ronald Goose Restuccio. Sal Midilli’s destination was “neutral Hammonton’ territory,” the Gem over on Central Avenue.
“The town’s a little crowded tonight,” Juice observed and commented. “That’s rare for a Monday.”
“There’s a lotta’ kids from Vineland ridin’ around cruisin’ the avenue,” News disclosed, “and don’t be surprised if there’s some conflict resultin’ from their innocent turf invasion.”
I was well aware of how territorial South Jersey towns like Hammonton, Berlin, Williamstown, Egg Harbor and Vineland actually were. The local pride went beyond school spirit, pep rallies and high school football rivalries. It was very real ethnocentric prejudice, agrarian discrimination that echoed the refrain, “Our town’s better than yours.” News suggested that a foreign threat was the only factor that could successfully bring the Reds, the Blues and the Ramrodders together for a common purpose.
“Could ya’ explain yourself?” Juice asked T.T. in quest of clarification. “I’m afraid you’re bein’ a little vague.”
“Sure thing,” News returned. “It’s all quite simple. The only common bond the Reds, Blues and Ramrodders have is the turf they each claim in downtown Hammonton,” Tommy maintained. “If guys from Vineland show up and start flirtin’ with Hammonton girls and show hints of takin’ over, then the gangs will become territorial, just like aggressive animals do when some passin’ family of animals trespasses on their property.”
“I think I see,” I said. “Dogs bark at strangers because they feel their territory is being threatened, and lions will fight other lions over boundaries, but then lions will unite with other prides, prides that had been former enemies in order to fight-off clans of prowlin’ hyenas invadin’ their common territory. I saw that last week on a television special.”
“You two eggheads oughta’ go on the 64,000 Question ‘cause ya’ really know your crap,” Juice commended. “You two must be the smartest hombres in the entire school. Stuff like that territory remark plus one thin dime will get ya’ an almost full cup of coffee anywhere in town.”
“I promise to tell ya’ guys all about crap after we get to the Gem,” I predicted to my companions. “I’m an expert on the subject.”
“Don’t blast through any more windows tonight,” Fabian advised. “Thank goodness there’s still eleven more months for February 3rd to roll around again.”
Sal found a convenient parking spot in front of Olivo’s Super Market. The four of us paced across Central to the Gem and were lucky to secure the last booth in the already crowded burger haven. Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” was on the ‘45 rpm record spinning around inside the Gem’s colorful Wurlitzer jukebox, and the fighting War of 1812 song conjured-up in my mind images of possible combat between Hammonton and Vineland’ high school students. I was hoping that my hunch was wrong, so I switched gears and asked faithful News Tomasello what interesting events were happening in the world.
“Well J.W., I’m happy to report that Pioneer 5 is the third U.S. satellite to be orbited to go around the sun,” News divulged to his rather apathetic audience. “As ya’ all no doubt remember, it was launched a while back from Cape Canaveral.”
“A pie-in-ear is better than a moist cake in the face!” I punned. No one else at our booth considered my shallow joke amusing except its creator.
“What were the first two space probes called?” Juice glibly asked Tomasello.
“Pioneer 4 and Russia’s Lunik 1,” News speedily related without any hesitation. “There’s an intense space race goin’ on, no doubt about it. Competition is what keeps science goin.’ The U.S. fears Russia’s getting’ ahead so we come up with new science and technology, and then the Soviets do the same.”
I was a little bored by News’ presentation so I glanced around the burger joint and saw Joanne Berenato, Elaine Hill, Esther Phyllis and Nanette Banks gossiping their brains out over in a distant booth in the opposite corner. Joanne spotted me scrutinizing her and was about to wave in my direction when Herc Juliano sauntered over to announce his presence to her.
My spinal cord and entire nervous system were instantly smitten with sudden cold twinges of jealousy. My mind’s activity patterns quickly accelerated, and soon my consciousness became rejuvenated and my dormant personality rejoined the mediocre conversation that had been initiated and sustained by News Tomasello.
“Hey guys,” I interrupted, “all of this United States versus Russia Cold War’ stuff goin’ on is because of the WWII atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan,” I said, remembering what Quinn had once asserted back in Levittown. “And the fear of atomic war is even spillin’ into the news and the movies.”
“Well,” Juice Illiani challenged, “explain yourself!”
I conveyed to my pals that the flying saucer rage had officially begun with the suspicious Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash incident, a news story that had been blown out of proportion by paranoia about new satellites and Sputniks being developed by Soviet technology. And then I elaborated by saying how Hollywood movies that featured mutations caused by nuclear radiation had spawned popular films like The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms, War of the Worlds, This Island Earth and the incomparable Creature from the Black Lagoon.
“Wow!” News exclaimed in near admiration. “J.W., ya’ really know your trivial facts’ shit!”
“Speakin’ of shit,” Juice picked up on Tommy’s intro’, “J.W., ya’ told us in the car while we were cruisin’ town that you had somethin’ major to tell us about crap. Now’s your chance to educate us.”
I was about to advance Bo Jalonec’s incredible theory about the stratification of feces when Judy Salvatore, an attractive brunette waitress came over to take our orders.
“How are things over at St. Joe’s?” Juice asked the friendly girl about her Alma Mater.
“Okay, but I’d rather go to Edgewood and get away from those obnoxious Blues over there,” Judy said before nodding her head in the direction of a booth occupied by Gabe Gillette, Speed Mortellite, Butch Lanza and Ox Narducci. “I’d rather work in a restaurant in Atco or Berlin.”
“Judy, just remember that Goose Restuccio goes to Edgewood,” Juice advanced, “and he’s no Charlton Heston, Elvis Presley or Frankie Avalon either.”
“I guess you’re right,” Judy grinned, “the grass is always greener somewhere else.”
“Juice,” Judy said, “I know News Tomasello here, but who are your other two buds. Barry Cooda and Doug Dirt?” she laughed.
Juice apologized for not introducing Fabian and me to the dark-skinned pretty waitress, so he formally performed the customary salutations. Judy Salvatore told us that her aspiration was to become an art teacher.
“Why not teach all the kids and not just Art!” I jested. “And how come ya’ got the same last name that Fabian here uses for his first name? I really hope the next world’s more simple to live in than this one is.”
“J.W., what do ya’ want to drink? Have ya’ made up your limited mind yet?” the cute dark-hair chick requested.
I remembered a former Levittown line. “I’m not so hungry right now, so please be so kind to get me a Michigan on the rocks,” I answered.
“What on earth is a Michigan?” the doll asked in a very amused voice.
“Well Judy, if ya’ don’t have a Michigan, then kindly bring me a mini-soda. And make it a Pepsi.”
Everyone at the table laughed at my fairly witty comment, and when I turned around, I saw Joanne Berenato wondering exactly what had been said at our table that would have generated the humorous reaction.
“Don’t mind J.W.,” Juice said to Judy, “because he’s gonna’ change his name on his birth certificate to Harley Davidson, since he thinks he’s a major league mean motor scooter.”
After Judy struggled through finally obtaining our legitimate food and beverage preferences, News demanded that I share with the guys my exceptional knowledge about the hierarchy of feces, of which I professed to be an authority.
“Well fellas’,” I began while impersonating the inimitable Bo Jalonec, “there are different distinct levels of crap.” I proceeded to tell my comrades about the lowest level commonly known as chicken shit, which was everyday crap not worth thinking about twice. “Then above the chicken droppings there’s horse crap, which is the kind of academic trivia and stuff that Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Andrews try to unload on us in their sacred classrooms every day,” I related. “Those academic ideas have no real meaning or basic importance in the real world that’s outside the shelter of the classroom.”
“J.W., ya’ really know your shit!” Fabian Midilli acknowledged in an amazed tone of voice. “Give us more of your great view of the world from inside the toilet bowl lookin’ up at all the assholes in the world.”
“Well Sal,” I continued, “above horse crap there is bull crap, which every television commentator and every newspaper reporter lays on ya’ to make you believe that ya’ really need to see and hear what the heck they’re sayin’ on TV and writin’ in the papers is important,” I informed. “And at the top of the dung world is serious crap. Serious crap is definitely an extremely dangerous kind of feces. Serious crap could even get ya’ killed, like the heavy poop goin’ on between the Reds, the Blues and the Ramrodders right now. I plan to write a feces on the subject when I go to college. Do you guys dig my theory?”
“Holy mackerel!” Juice exhorted, almost plummeting out of the booth. “We listen to our parents to learn chicken shit, we go to school to find out about horseshit, we watch television and read the newspapers to become experts on bullshit, and we date girls, look for fun, and fool around with the Reds to know all about serious shit! J.W., you’re a genius. That’s the greatest truth my gullible ears have ever heard!”
Several tough-looking strangers entered the Gem just when the jukebox began belting out “Western Movies” by the Olympics. After scanning the premises, the two newcomers dressed in handsome button-down blue and red letterman’s sweaters with big V’s sewn on the right sides above the pocket strolled over to Joanne Berenato’s Gem’ booth.
My first inclination was that the boys’ outstanding-looking two-tone high school sweaters seemed like a much-needed compromise between the Reds and the Blues, but after the two kids started chatting with my dream girl and her friends, I became a tad stricken with green-eyed envy.
Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” again was being emitted from the Gem juke’s powerful speakers and the tune’s marching rhythm and war’ cadence seemed to be ominously signaling events to come.
“Those two muscle-bound weightlifters are from Vineland,” News pointed out, “and the taller one is Joanne’s cousin Joe Lo Biondi. I think he’s interested in takin’ Elaine Hill out and usin’ Joanne as his agent.”
“Yeah,” Juice concurred, “but I don’t think that Herc Juliano knows that Joe Lo Biondi is actually Joanne’s cousin. This could mean…”
Before Johnny Illiani could finish his sentence Herc Juliano and Ollie “Balls” Giordano picked-up the two Vineland jocks and hurled them at the Gem’s front window, shattering the pane glass. Girls were screaming and everyone rose to their feet in response to the recent unanticipated violence. Juice, News, Sal and I were the first ones to rush outside to investigate.
I was quickly grabbed by three Vineland kids that were loitering outside the Gem, lifted up and then tossed like a rag doll through the empty space made in the Gem’s front window frame. I temporarily landed on top of the table situated in front of the booth. My forward momentum made me skim on and then skid off of the front booth’s table and then unceremoniously crash with a thud on the black and white tile floor.
Joanne Berenato and Elaine Hill rushed over and assisted me to my feet. Both girls still appeared stunned by my sudden reappearance after being flung inside the teen restaurant through the open window space. I wasn’t exactly the epitome of poise as I futilely tried regaining my equilibrium.
Mr. Arturo Sorrentino exploded out of the Gem’s kitchen, looked at me, noticed his broken window, and then scratched his head wondering why no shattered glass’ floor’ shards were on the inside of his eatery. “Boo-tana! Not this bullshit again!” the hard-working neurotic Italian yelled out in astonishment. I dared not correct Mr. Sorrentino that he had mistaken serious shit for “bullshit.”
Then Elaine Hill told the proprietor that a young man other than me had been chucked through the pane-glass window from inside the Gem. The still semi-traumatized owner wearing his kitchen apron staggered through the main door out to the coldness of Central Avenue to identify the victims, to learn the names of the culprits and to assess the property damage.
By that time a number of fights had broken out all over downtown Hammonton. The first was between Ox Narducci, Speed Mortellite and Butch Lanza representing the Hammonton Blues, who were mauling the three Vineland studs that had just airmailed me back into the Gem. The Central Avenue mayhem spilled over onto Bellevue where town police on patrol were attempting to break up brawls in front of the Rivoli Theater on one side and in front of Vega’s Drugs and Augie’s Hamburger Paradise on the opposite side of the main drag.
Finally a squad car pulled up to the Gem and soon two husky officers with nightsticks ran across the street to quell the disturbance between the determined Hammonton and brawny Vineland High jocks.
“All of this conflict because cousins can’t talk to each other in a downtown Hammonton restaurant!” News observed and lamented. “This town is so inbred that it doesn’t know there’s a whole big world that exists outside its narrow borders.”
Pee Wee Lucca, the Blues’ answer to patriot Paul Revere came running down Central from Bellevue yelling out, “Vineland kids are all over the place! Vineland kids are all over the place!” As the beleaguered Hammonton police finally separated Ox Narducci, Speed Mortellite and Butch Lanza from mauling and maiming the three Vineland athletes Pee Wee Lucca reported to anyone that listened that the Ramrodders had demolished the windshield of a Vineland kid’s Oldsmobile.
“It all happened outside the Central Café over on Egg Harbor Road,” Pee Wee panted, “and then those crazy Rodders’ chased four Vineland High kids three blocks down to the Rivoli. Two carloads of Vineland punks were parked in front of the movies, and before ya’ could say Jack Robinson twice, a wild fight broke out all over Bellevue Avenue involvin’ at least two dozen Vineland jerks and the Ramrodders, the Blues and the Reds.”
I looked over at Joanne Berenato and her big brown eyes showed shame and guilt for what had recently transpired all over town that had originated at her table in the Gem. She glanced at me and then looked away at the police unit still grappling with the three Vineland High studs, who were still defending their injured egos by pretending to foolishly want a piece of Narducci, Mortellite and Lanza.
All of the pandemonium was interrupted when Mr. Sorrentino’s shrill voice screamed out, “Boo-tana! Who the hell’s goin’ to pay for this damned window this time?”
“Trouble on the Home Front”
The only time the Hammonton area male teens united was when their territory was challenged by what they perceived as a foreign threat. The “invasion incident” with the formidable Vineland High jocks clearly demonstrated that the Reds, the Blues and the Ramrodders would form an unnatural coalition to resist any outside desecration of their sanctuary, downtown Bellevue/Central Avenue turf. When not feeling jeopardized by external enemies then the three disparate factions would persist in quarreling over which group ruled downtown Hammonton.
The third week in March marked the end of the local high school basketball scene. The classic contest of the season pitted two evenly matched teams, the St. Joseph High Joeys versus the Hammonton High School Blue Devils. The St. Joe gym on Third and Pleasant Street was packed with rabid round ball enthusiasts from the area, including a contingent of fans from Edgewood High in attendance.
The HHS Blue Devils had Pee Wee Lucca and Gabe Gillette as starting guards, Bobby Speed Mortellite and Butch Lanza as forwards, and the ever-dangerous and unpredictable hatchet man Ox Narducci at center. Ollie Giordano, Herc Juliano and Jake Maccarella were starters for the Joeys. From the outset the game was more like a survival struggle than a sports’ event. Both sides wanted to win so badly that an un-savvy spectator would believe that the losers were to be executed by firing squad immediately following the final buzzer. The game was more like a vicious war between Reds against Blues rather than a good sportsmanship-like duel of HHS devils against St. Joseph High “baby kangaroos.”
“This is some game!” Juice yelled at me towards the end of the fourth quarter among the ultra-boisterous fans at one end of the filled-to-capacity St. Joe’ gymnasium.
“You said it!” I enthusiastically boomed back. “The score’s 63-62 favor of HHS with only seven seconds remaining. It’ll take a major miracle for St. Joe to score and pull this baby out but they do have the ball,” I indicated. “They gotta’ somehow beat the Hammonton press and then throw up an Apostle’s Creed and hope that heaven is listenin’.”
Then came one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen exhibited on a basketball court. Jake Maccarella in-bounded the ball at center-court to Herc Juliano, who faked a forty-foot turn-around jump shot and then flipped the ball behind his back to Ollie “Balls” Giordano. The tough kid dribbled low between Pee Wee Lucca and Gabe Gillette’s defense without committing a traveling violation, and the two HHS defenders were prudent and did not want to foul and stop the clock. When Giordano ran out of wooden floor in the far corner of the court, in desperation, he dramatically hooked the basketball over his right shoulder without even looking at the basket. The round sphere majestically arched through the air as Giordano kept running down the steps into the St. Joe’ locker room, without any knowledge of his frantic shot’s fate.
The basketball hit the front of the rim when the horn sounded, ending the game. The ball bounced up, caromed off the backboard with the most optimal rotation, rose a foot above the support cable and then plunged down swishing through the net. The Edgewood and St. Joe fans went wild.
“Balls was already in the locker room when that unbelievable shot swished through from the rafters!” News shouted in my right ear. “He wasn’t even facin’ the basket when he released the ball.”
“Never seen anything like it in my life,” I confessed. “In a close game it’s better to play for a Catholic school when ya’ throw up a prayer like that.”
“Now ya’ guys know why they call Ollie Giordano ‘Balls’!” Juice Illiani finished. “If he misses, everyone knows he tried his best. If the shot goes through, he’s an instant hero. Then the crazy kid gets to act nonchalant and super cool like he had planned it that way all along. That game-winner has only added mystique to his local reputation.”
“I’m just glad Balls saved that lucky shot until the very end to beat Gabe Gillette and the Hammonton Blues,” a jubilant News Tomasello related. “This loss oughta’ put the Blues in their place for a couple of weeks while they stay in their den and lick their wounds.”
“Or it might make them more aggressive than ever,” Juice cautioned. “Ya’ don’t know how wild or how tame animals will react when they are wounded.”
The next morning at Edgewood, I saw Tyrone Davis in the upstairs’ M-Wing before homeroom. First he commended me on being the Marvelons’ manager, but next the black kid disclosed something I was unprepared to hear.
“J.W., the Marvelons got us a decent promoter, but we need a couple hundred dollars for some seed money to get our act started at area night clubs. That’s where you come in!” Tyrone said.
“Where am I gonna’ get two hundred dollars?” I asked. “Why can’t ya’ get the bread from your promoter?”
“Hey man! You’re the manager. Ya’ gotta’ complete deals that the promoter makes,” Tyrone insisted. “Our promoter needs the money within the next week. Good luck, Cat.”
I was really despondent, my mind in a total abysmal-type of quandary. The only one I knew that had enough expendable cash to finance the project was Goose Restuccio, but I dared not approach him because I was aware of his animosity toward colored people in general and toward Tyrone Davis in particular. And besides, G.R. would probably then verbally crucify me daily about my proposition if I owed him the dough.
At the lunch table the guys were cutting up pretty good while my spirits remained in a melancholy state of depression. News had already forgotten about Balls Giordano’s amazing game-winning hook shot that had vanquished Captain Gabe Gillette’s Hammonton High Blue Devils. He was now jabbering away about how Ohio State had soundly defeated California 75-55 in the NCAA basketball championships. The basketball’ conversation shifted to Wilt Chamberlain’s recently announced retirement from professional round ball.
“He’s the greatest scorer ever and the man’s a credit to the game,” News maintained. “Those wars between him and the Celtics’ Bill Russell will go down in sports history as classic match-ups. Our kids will watch them on TV, I guarantee it.”
“I guess Chamberlain’s career has finally wilted,” I negatively stated as I equated the star Philadelphia Warriors’ center to a flower being exposed to the first heavy autumn frost.
“All you freakin’ guys love niggers,” Goose Restuccio accused. “The colored flunky makes a thousand times as much as your old man does, all because he’s a descendant of some eight-foot-tall spear-chuckin’ Watusi tribesman.”
“Look Goose,” Juice said as he admired the kid’s bright red James Dean’ jacket, “the guy’s got great talent. Wilt’s the only NBA player that can dominate a game.”
“Look here Dork-face,” Restuccio responded, “first of all, Chamberlain can’t shoot from the foul line when nobody’s guardin’ him. From the line he ain’t worth a damn. Second, basketball was a game invented by a short white man for dinky white kids that averaged only five-foot-ten inches tall,” G.R. argued. “Now we got seven feet tall niggers ploppin’ the ball into ten-feet-high baskets. Now to be fair to every player, I think the baskets oughta’ be raised to twelve feet so that all those African black bastards can’t dunk the goddamned thing so easily. Then we’d see just how good those dark sons of bitches really are playin’ the way the game was meant to be, below the friggin’ rim.”
I was appalled by Goose’s deep-rooted prejudice, which I believed to be unwarranted and hypocritical. “Goose,” I said while concealing a degree of anger welled up in my heart, “ya’ never played any organized sports. Why do ya’ criticize what ya’ don’t really understand. Speak from experience.”
“Okay J.W.,” Restuccio said, “I’ll speak from experience. The only reason that fuckin’ Tyrone Davis is kissin’ up to your butt is because he thinks ya’ got money to finance his new flunky singin’ group. And when your limited cash flow runs dry, be sure not to call on me to support the far-fetched pipe-dreams of five goin’ nowhere niggers.”
I wished in my heart that Goose had been dead wrong and that the Marvelons would emerge as a dynamic new Doo Wop sound in the record industry. I fantasized that my two-hundred-dollar investment would blossom into a small fortune and that someday I would have to rescue an indigent Goose Restuccio from the throes of financial bankruptcy. But I was smart enough to keep my thoughts secret and to myself.
“Well men,” Fabian said in an effort to give the debate a rational spin, “I think that Chamberlain is quoted in the papers as sayin’ that the white players bang him around pretty heavily under the basket and that his body can’t endure that much more punishment.”
“You wait,” Goose countered, “that guy’s a big black crybaby. In a couple of weeks that spook will sign a big contract and return to the NBA. He’s only holdin’ out for more bucks. Where else could a mool-en-yan freak like him make that kind of serious money except in exploitin’ a game that was designed for short white college boys?”
“You’re more obscene than D.H. Lawrence ever was!” I yelled across the table at Restuccio.
“Your mouth is goin’ south,” Jives Arena hollered at me. “And J.W., stop havin’ a cow and thinkin’ you’re getting’ the royal shaft just because Goose here is rattlin’ your cage somethin’ fierce!”
“By the way J.W.,” News Tomasello informed, “that book you said ya’ read, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence was ruled just the other day as not being obscene by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Charles E. Clark presiding.”
My spirit had been reduced to rubble. I felt disconsolate and conquered by Goose and Frankie’s staunch opposition. ‘There is only one salvation,’ I thought. I had amassed the sum of two hundred and ten dollars in a savings account from working my paper route and laboring at Hal’s Delicatessen in Levittown.
That next day Edgewood had half-sessions to accommodate parent-teacher conferences. After riding Herman Priestley’s school bus home I had been assigned by my parents to go on an errand into town to pick up two cartons of pints for the farm market from Hammonton Packaging Company. I walked up the stairs to my room and secured the local bank savings’ deposit book from my desk drawer. I had enough time to pick-up the pints, withdraw the required two hundred dollars from my personal savings account and then drive the blue Pete’s Market Special back home without anyone ever suspecting my clandestine activity.
The bank teller gave me a very curious look when I awkwardly handed her my Account Book and made my request to virtually deplete my principal. She conferred with her supervisor for a minute. Then the elderly woman returned to her teller’s station and gave me a brief interrogation.
“Why are you withdrawing most of the money?” she firmly asked.
I had to think fast without giving away the true reason, which she might suspect being a highly impractical one. “I just got my driver’s license and need the money for car insurance,” I imaginatively fibbed. “My folks say I gotta’ pay my own way or not drive.” I was worried that the bank supervisor would call home about the questionable transaction I was attempting to make.
The lady again conversed with her superior and after several very suspenseful minutes, returned to her cash drawer, made the two hundred dollar deduction from my savings account and handed-over the ten crisp twenty dollar bills.
I was elated. I folded and tucked the ten Andrew Jacksons in my wallet, stuffed my Account Savings Book into my shirt pocket and left the marble pillared building with a relieved mind and a slightly guilty conscience. I was not prepared for what awaited me on the home’ front.
Dad confronted me at the market right after I drove the blue truck onto the property and exited the vehicle. “Son,” he began, “I want to have a frank discussion with you.” Immediately I instinctively knew that his message was not going to be favorable. “I had just had a conference with Mr. Andrews at your school, and he says you’re failing trigonometry. Mr. White then told me that if you fail that major subject, then you will not be able to graduate in June and will have to go to summer school. We need ya’ to work at the market and not be riding busses all summer long back and forth to Haddonfield.”
I didn’t know what to say or how to react. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I really am tryin’ my best to pass, but I just don’t understand the subject. I don’t have enough higher math’ background to understand and do the word problems.”
“Son, I’m afraid that’s not quite good enough,” Pop answered, “and if ya’ don’t pass, then you’re really goin’ to be in hot water. I haven’t forgotten how you blew up the engine in my Bel Air just a few weeks ago. It’s cost me two hundred dollars to get a rebuilt one installed. And now you’re flunkin’ your math course…”
“It’s not just simple math!” I challenged. “It’s advanced trigonometry. I’d like to see you show me the difference between secant and cosecant!”
“I’m not takin’ and flunkin’ the course!” Dad bellowed. “You are! And besides, what are ya’ doin’ with your Bank Account Savings Book sittin’ inside your shirt pocket?”
I glanced down through my open Diablos black leather motorcycle jacket and saw the exposed bankbook. My temper was ascending from dormant to furious. “It’s my money and none of your business! I’m the one who earned the money and it’s mine to spend or to keep!” I snottily replied.
“As long as you live under my roof in my house ya’ gotta’ answer me honestly!” Pop insisted. “What are ya’ goin’ to do with that cash?”
“How do ya’ know I didn’t make a deposit and that’s why I have the bankbook!” I ineffectively argued.
“Because ya’ haven’t been workin’ to make any money to put in the bank!” Dad replied. “And I feel I have a responsibility to make sure ya’ spend the money in an intelligent manner and not piss it away on some naïve investment scheme or on some silly juvenile purchase!”
I had to really think fast. “Okay,” I said, “I fell through the window at the Gem Restaurant. A friend lent me the money to pay for the damage and now I have to pay him back.”
Pop informed me that he had heard about the “window incident” in town and that a rich Mafia kid named Goose Restuccio had satisfied the debt and had not demanded that I pay him back. I was boiling inside because Dad had known the truth and now he wanted a valid explanation, which I was not ready to divulge at that particular time and place because my father would consider my motivation to finance the Marvelons frivolous.
“And I really must say that I don’t approve of your choice of friends either,” my father said while indirectly condemning Goose Restuccio.
“Goose is all right!” I defiantly yelled. “He paid for the window without makin’ any big deal about it!”
“You’re bein’ too impetuous wanting to spend that hard-earned money so hastily,” Dad criticized, “and I think it would be safer if you just turned it over to me.” Pop had a premonition that I was going to hit the panic button and hop into the blue truck and leave the property, so he opened the driver’ side door and removed the keys from the ignition. “Son, I’m waitin’ for an explanation, and I don’t want any lie or excuse this time.”
“If I have to live with you pryin’ into my personal affairs all the time, then I’m leavin’ and runnin’ away from home!” I shouted.
Pop argued that I couldn’t provide for myself and that I couldn’t get anything other than a minimum wage job at best. He was attempting to force his dominance and to reinforce my dependency on me, and I didn’t savor his objectives one bit.
“I’m leavin’ right now!” I yelled back, almost in tears. “You can’t run my life!”
I turned with a hurting heart and paced to our neighbor’s peach orchard. I was soon off the Pete’s Market premises and walking diagonally through the orchard of barren’ fruit trees. In ten minutes I found my way to North Third Street, and in another half-hour, I had trekked the full two miles to downtown Hammonton.
I entered town hall on Central Avenue across from Hammonton High, still in a minor state of anger, which had been fueled by exasperation at my father’s meddling into my private life. “Where’s the Army’ recruiter?” I boldly asked one of the clerks behind the Tax Department’ window.
“He’s here only Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” the lady curtly replied. “Today’s Thursday.”
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘I have the luck of a born loser.’ “Thanks,” I said to the preoccupied woman, who was already busy working on her next secretarial task.
I dejectedly left Town Hall and sneered at an Uncle Sam’ “I Want You” poster that had been taped on the wall near the main entrance. As I was descending the stone steps a white ‘60 Thunderbird pulled over to the curb. I was never so happy to see Goose Restuccio.
“Hop in Jerk-weed!” the malcontented spoiled brat commanded. “I’m gonna’ treat ya’ to lunch. But don’t ask me for any goddamned money to float Tyrone Davis’s flunky singin’ group.”
“I’m sure glad you weren’t Speed Mortellite. Where we goin’?” I wanted to know.
“Over to Augie’s Burger Paradise next to Vega’s Drugs,” Goose related. “The Hammonton High kids are allowed to leave the school for lunch, and most of ‘em go to the Gem. We’ll be safer getting a bite to eat at Augie’s place.”
Goose explained to me at the hamburger joint that he had been in town to mail some letters at the post office and to buy some stamps but that he had all afternoon to accomplish those minor chores. We ordered steak subs and Cokes. Then Goose and I had some nitty-gritty conversation.
“Ya’ know J.W., I sorta’ like ya’,” G.R. began, “and I don’t wanta’ see ya’ hurt in either your world or in mine. I wanta’ be like a father to ya’, do ya’ get what I mean?”
“That’s all I need is another father,” I protested before gulping down three ounces of Coca-Cola. “One father’s more than enough!”
Goose sensed that I had been encountering some problems on the domestic front and I spilled my heart out to him, describing every specific of my quarrel with Dad. My listener surprised me as being very sympathetic and understanding to my dilemma. He promised to patch things up in a jiffy. My rich friend jotted down my phone number, marched over to the indoor phone booth and called Pop to inform him that I was safe and sound.
I heard Goose’s penetrating staccato voice negotiating with Dad the terms of my delivery, that I was to go directly to my room, sleep overnight without eating dinner with the family to avoid any arguments, and would go to school the next morning without incident.
While Goose was ironing out the settlement terms with Pop two Hammonton policemen entered Augie’s Burger Paradise to have lunch. They noticed me sitting all by my lonesome at a table, so they asked me a few questions.
“Son, aren’t ya’ supposed to be in school?” the first officer queried. “You aren’t being truant, are ya’?”
“Well,” I stammered, “I have…”
“What school do you go to?” the second patrolman questioned. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around town?”
Goose Restuccio finished his mediation over the phone with Pop, plunked the receiver onto its vertical holder and then exited the booth.
“Good afternoon officers,” Goose greeted the two policemen. “This here is J.W., and he’s with me. We had only a half day over at Edgewood because of afternoon parent-teacher conferences.”
Apparently the two cops were familiar with Goose and accepted his word as gospel truth. “Okay gentlemen,” the first cop said, “enjoy your lunch.” The second cop gave us a mock salute as the two sidled up to the counter to place their orders.
“Do ya’ control the cops too?” I leaned over and whispered to G.R. “Ya’ sure gotta’ lot of clout!”
“I’m not tellin’, and that’s for you to fuckin’ decide,” my illustrious companion casually replied.
Jay Dubya (author of 41 books)