Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Nov. 27, 2016
Back in the day, my friends and I weren’t easy to categorize.
We were athlete-delinquents and sporting events often provided the venue to display both sides of the hyphen. Predictably, when a rival softball team came to our turf to play one of our teams, there was always the potential for trouble.
Case in point: The older guys (16-and-under league; we were still in 14-and-under) had a home game against a team from Sunnyside. The visitors brought along some supporters and one of them took to taunting our pitcher, a guy we called Ratt.
Ratt kept warning -- almost begging -- the guy to stop. Ratt had a notorious temper and a reputation for mayhem so he prudently wanted to end things before they progressed. The guy would not relent.
We all watched Ratt take a wooden bat and swing it at his nemesis. The guy put up his arms to protect himself and the bat made contact with his left forearm. In a flash, you could see the guy’s bone sticking through the skin.
A melee ensued but not many blows were thrown. The guys from Sunnyside were more focused on getting their friend to a hospital.
Ratt was the hero again but when we learned there would be a game the following week in Sunnyside’s Skillman Park, everyone knew we’d have a full-blown rumble on our hands.
My friends and I were psyched, but first a quick side trip: Talking about Ratt reminded me about another guy named Steve. He was the same age as Ratt and also owned a reputation for mayhem. We often debated who would win in a fight but they were close enough friends that we’d never find out. Steve was huge: a football player with freakish strength. He would wrestle four of us and easily win.
Just by watching him in action, Steve taught us some useful fighting tricks. One day, he was playing handball with some non-local guys. As was often the case, an argument ensued and one of the outsiders foolishly called Steve out. His next move was even more foolish. The guy, who had a good physique, started to take off his shirt to show it off while fighting.
Steve waited until the shirt was over the guy’s face before blasting a sledgehammer right hand that the guy couldn’t see coming. The fight was over in a matter of seconds.
Ironically, I used a similar tactic on Steve’s younger brother, Paulie. Everyone thought he could take me. We had a fight in the schoolyard and I was holding my sneakers at the time. As Paulie rushed me, I tossed the sneakers at his face. When he reacted to the sneakers, I pounced on him and got him in a headlock. The nuns broke it up but Paulie never bugged me again after that.
Back to Ratt’s rumble: No one would drive us to Skillman Park, so we walked it. When we arrived, several dozen punks were milling around but we had missed the main event. Ratt arrived and almost immediately some guy tapped him on the shoulder. Ratt turned and got punched right in the face. He recovered and fought back but the cops were already there to bust him and his attacker.
(The local residents had called the cops in advance, as soon as they saw that many long-haired troublemakers in one spot. Needless to say, the softball game was called off.)
We walked around, trying to look tough until we decided to leave. To our glee, we caught a ride by sitting on the laps of four of the older (late teens) crowd: Gary, Big Mike, and a few others. These guys were legends in our area. Gary wasn’t the toughest guy around but he was a leader and the endless source of dramatic moments. Known as Big Pri (he had two younger brothers), he once smashed his fist through a window just because he saw someone dancing with “his” girl at a church dance*.
Big Mike was known, simply, as the best fighter in our insular universe and I never saw anyone come close to proving that to be wrong. I even saw Big Mike fight his close friend, Black Malcolm (that’s what he and everyone else called him). He and Big Mike got drunk and decided to stage a Joe Frazier-Jerry Quarry fight. The playful boxing match turned serious and Big Mike did some damage. We knew enough to not interfere. In fact, we left the scene before Big Mike decided he needed a new target. I remembered how, once before, he and Malcolm has cornered me with leather weight lifting belts and whipped me for laughs.
We lived to impress these guys. One night, we got the bright idea to put a metal base (used to place a sign for road construction) in the road. A Volkswagon blew out its tires and we scattered. After the car was towed and the cops had left, we returned to the scene of our crime.
Big Pri looked at us and shook his head: “You guys are even worse than we were at your age.”
We floated on air for weeks after that.
That night, on our way back from Skillman, I remarked that we were sitting in the toughest car around and this amused everyone. My punk friends and I yelled out the windows, challenging everyone we saw. I can still recall that delusional feeling of omnipotence and security. The elders of our clan were (allegedly) looking after us and we felt untouchable.
*After the smashed window incident, Big Pri was hanging out on a corner wearing a cast when we came by to honor him. Just then, some guy came running up with a meat cleaver. He swung at Pri who blocked it with his cast. The cleaver stuck in the plaster and they started fighting. As they wrestled on the ground, one of Pri’s friends pick-pocketed the guy’s switchblade. Pri eventually kicked the guy’s ass and we learned the whole thing started because Pri had robbed the guy’s apartment.
Pri turned us on to cocaine well before anything like that became accessible to poor kids like us. He also taunted us and tortured us to no end. He and his friends would think nothing of pulling off our pants and tossing them up a tree or dangling us by our feet out a fourth floor window. We survived these episodes and bragged afterwards. This earned the respect of Pri and his gang and they often defended us when we needed it most. When Little Man, a leading member of the Young Sinners, got wasted and started threatening us with a knife, I snuck away and ran to Pri’s apartment. He and a few others were down in no time and soon had Little Man under control.
As far as I know, Pri ended up in prison for manslaughter. The story I heard was that he was robbing a liquor store and the owner died of a heart attack.
Mickey Z. is currently writing two books, a memoir called How to Lose Friends & Influence Nobody: My Life as an “Activist,” and a fusion novella entitled stain red. In the meantime, he can be found here.