Postal Realism

Vintage postage stamp of mailman

Hallelujah! I passed the Post Office test with a gold star and was told to report to the massive Grand Central Station sorting office hidden behind the even more massive Grand Central Station. I quickly learned that working there was noisy, numbing, mindless, repetitive, soul-destroying drudgery. A shift was eight endless hours in a sweatshop under the blare of metal machinery, the glare of fluorescent lights and the stares of angry bosses and suspicious Black women who weren’t best pleased that a White-boy was on their patch. A White-boy who had passed the Post Office test first time. And, without special tutoring!

Sweatshop

I was shown to my letter sorting station where I sat perched on a scoliosis-inducing high stool facing pigeon coops labeled with Zip Codes – 11213, 10751, 10001 etc. Like a touch typist, I was expected to know the Zip Code coop positions by heart, grab letters from the mail trays before me and deftly flick them into the correct coops without looking. Meanwhile, the slave drivers… er, I mean… shift-bosses strode up and down the aisle shouting at me to work faster. I noticed that they never shouted at the obese Black women perched precariously on their high stools with one hand in a mail tray and the other in a bag of potato chips gossiping with the obese Black women on either side. These union-job-for-lifers occasionally tossed a piece of mail in the general direction of the coops. 

mail sorting coops
The rack… er, I mean… the mail sorting coops

Trainees had to raise their hands and request permission to pee and then had to sign in and out of the toilet room. After a few weeks on the job, I was threatened with unpaid suspension for taking too many pee breaks. But, I wasn’t going to pee or to do a line of coke. I was going to splash water on my face to stay awake. I was working the “graveyard shift” – Midnight to 8AM. And, it was pure hell. 

I would finish acting in a play downtown at 10PM then have two hours to kill before punching in at Midnight uptown. So, I’d join the other actors for a few beers and then head to work. I was never drunk but the hour and the alcohol conspired to make staying awake until 8AM a muthafucka. Round about 3AM, I would start fading and start my regular treks to the toilet. 

Zippy Zipcode

Meanwhile back at the pigeon coops… one coop didn’t have a Zip Code. It had a name. That name was Reverend Ike – a Black televangelist who had become very popular in the early 1970s. And, no foolin’, the Good Reverend got so much mail he needed his own Zip Code!

Ike sported the processed hair and wardrobe of a pimp. And, like a pimp, he was all about money. But, he was also intelligent, articulate, witty and (I still believe) genuine. (As an actor, I admire all good public speakers and Ike was one of the best. You can catch his act and his suits on Youtube. Forget Creflo Dollar and all of today’s exponents of the “Gospel of Greed” coz Ike had ‘em beat.)  

Reverend Ike
The real Godfather of REAL Soul

Ike’s God wasn’t no welfare God. Ike’s God was a Maserati, mink coat and motorboat God. Ike’s God was The God of Bling.  

I liked Ike. 

I liked him coz he wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t preaching sack cloth and ashes while wearing Armani. He wanted his congregation to wear Armani, too. (Jim and Tammy Bakker later practiced and preached this same holy excess. And, Joel Osteen has become America’s top televangelist with a white bread version of Ike’s message.) But, Ike’s theology wasn’t original. It was a mish-mash of Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill with a dash of the uber-pimp Iceberg Slim thrown in for good measure! 

Iceberg Slim
The Gospel according to Iceberg Slim

Ike had his congregation hold up and wave dollar bills while intoning, “I want money. I love money. Money is my friend.” He closed his broadcasts with a call for Love Gifts. Those were to be sent in an envelope simply addressed to –

Rev. Ike

Grand Central Station

New York , New York

The envelopes that I sorted into Ike’s coop (and I sorted lots every night!) were written in pencil, in shaky little-old-lady handwriting with many words misspelled and with backward letters. We mail sorters passed around the funnier versions. I envisioned Black little-old-ladies all over America waving their dollar bills at their TVs while intoning “I love money” then sticking the bills in an envelope addressed to “that nice young man” – Rev. Ike.

Some envelopes held nothing but coins but others held very large bills. (We held the envelopes up to the light and called out the denominations.) The bigger the bill you gave, the bigger the boat you got. Or, at least, that’s the way it was supposed to work. If your ship never came in then maybe you just weren’t gifting enough. (Okay, so Ike was a conman but he was a genuine conman – a very common character in American social, religious and political history.)    

One night I was being lectured about Aesthetic Realism by the paunchy, prematurely balding Jewish guy to my right. He was working on a masters in Philosophy at Columbia. (There were a surprising number of screwy-scholars working at the P.O. and they all had theories about everything from Bauhaus to blintzes.) This particular genius was also a homosexual and he wasn’t happy about it. He explained to me how Aesthetic Realism would cure him of his compulsion to fist anonymous members of the public in public restrooms. 

The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the change from homosexuality

Aesthetic Realism was a psychobabble micro-cult founded by the Jewish poet Eli Siegel who claimed that he could cure queerness. Aesthetic Realism enjoyed a Nano-second of popularity in the pretentious arty-academic circles of Manhattan in the early 1970s. But, I don’t think it ever made it across the Hudson. And, it was soon surpassed by the psychobabble sensation called est which was concocted by another Jew – John Rosenberg… er, I mean… Werner Erhard. He was a conman and not a genuine one. (What is it with these Jewish conmen and their psycho-cults already? But, enough about Sigmund Freud.) 

Eli Siegel quote
Reminds me of the deep thought of that other Jewish psychobabble genius – Marianne Williamson

So… anyway… I was half-listening to my conflicted colleague while planning my next trip to the toilet and praying he didn’t follow me in when… WHAM! Mr. Aesthetic Realism was pulled off his perch, handcuffed and dragged away kicking and screaming by a pair of plain-clothes postal cops. They’d been watching him for some time and caught him sorting mail meant for Rev. Ike into his own pocket. 

There was no loudspeaker announcement acknowledging what had just happened. The guy was simply disappeared like a Soviet dissident. At the next coffee break the Post Office grapevine passed the news that not only were we being watched from above like gamblers in a casino but there were spies working among us posing as trainees and lifers. We were slaving in the Grand Central Gulag.

Force march at gulag
Coffee break is over! Back to the coops!

And, people wonder why Merry Mailmen go postal

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park at Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Roadmap to Blog Outa Brooklyn

Thanks for visiting my blog. It is a sampler of my murder-memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn. The best way to enjoy it is to start at the first post and read chronologically. I hope you’ll find it both hilarious and horrifying.

I will also be posting about the best books, movies and songs about Brooklyn. And, sharing my practical and off-beat travel tips.

Welcome to my Brooklyn,

Jack Antonio

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A Dance to Dance

Cartoon of typical New York modern dancer of the 1960s and 1970s

Don’t ask me how but in 1970s New York, modern dance had become the “New Rock & Roll.” Choreographers were so famous that they starred in cigarette ads. (And, you thought ballplayers selling Luckies was a nutty idea!) Photographs of these elite artistes, dressed in black and lounging on ballet barres, were splashed across billboards that towered over the streets of Manhattan – 

After a day of improvised gesture and motif development, there’s nothing I like better than getting lung cancer.

Martha Graham doing lamentations
Martha Graham “dancing.”
Now, imagine her holding that pose forever.
Bored yet?

But, the new-found popularity of modern… oh, no, excuse me, I meant to say contemporary dance coincided with the stylistic pretension known as “minimalism” in which the last thing any dancer wanted to be caught dead doing was dance. I attended dance performances in which a “dancer” just rolled an orange across the stage very, very slowly or opened and shut an umbrella over and over again or sat still in a chair – for an eternity. Stillness was the ultimate movement in the “new” dance. When one choreographer had his dancer stand, walk around the chair and sit down again, the debate raged in NOHO as to whether this represented a retrograde step or a daring leap into the choreographic future. This minimalist-dance craze swept across SOHO and NOHO even faster than chlamydia.   

Merce Cunningham with a chair on his back
At least this guy brought his own chair.
Hey, what a minute, I think I saw him move. That’s not DANCE!
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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A Dance to Noho and Soho

Vintage print of Whirling Dervishes
At least they didn’t wear tap-dance shoes!

Lynda was slogging through a series of bottom-feeder jobs, too. No surprise that we needed extra income to pay our rent. So, we converted half our loft into a rehearsal space and rented it to every NOHO-SOHO “boho” who ran classes, conducted seminars, held séances, burned incense, massaged feet, manipulated skulls, channeled angels, cleansed auras or chanted om, aum, or papa oom mow mow. Honest to God, we rented to a troupe of world-famous tap dancers and a troupe of not-so-famous whirling dervishes. That was the last straw for our downstairs neighbor – Fu Yu. He was a world-famous photo-realist painter who worked ever-so-meticulously with an airbrush on his wall-sized paintings of female torsos. (Now, ya ask me, if ya seen one wall-sized, photo-realist female torso… but… what do I know?) 

Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Fu Yu doing his famous Mickey Rooney impersonation. That Fu, such a kidder!

Fu Yu was mega because along with cocaine, punk and disco, photo-realism was all the rage in the soulless Seventies. But, all that whirling and tapping upstairs shook the building and shook Fu’s airbrush all over his torsos downstairs. When this happened (And, it happened lots.), he would storm upstairs and bang on our door like the long-suffering Mr. Yunioshi who lived downstairs from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Yunioshi is Japanese and Fu Yu is Chinese. Don’t get me started again on the Yellow Peril.) 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
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Peruvian Peasants on Pluto

Peruvian peasant women in grain field
“And, then we get the stupid gringos to eat quinoa!”

I attended recruiting meetings at Commie Party headquarters where I was shown earnest documentaries about Peruvian peasants and served earnest platters of Peruvian grains. As I grazed and mingled with these earnest young workers-of-the-world, I was delighted to discover that despite their earnest demeanors they were total fruitcakes. All the motifs I’d encountered in my lifetime of kook hunting were on display.

Dr. Bronner's liquid soap label.
The young comrades read the label with as much reverence as they read
Mao’s Little Red Book.

These young Marxists were sure that JFK and Hitler were living inside the hollow earth and happily cleansing their colons with enemas made from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. But, there was some dispute. The neo-Trotskyites among them believed that Adolf and Jack were living in alien bases on the dark side of the moon and cleansing their colons with crystals. They also hipped me to the commie gossip that Mao had a taste for underage female flesh and that Fidel liked the dark meat – the younger and darker the better.      

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Kill or Be Killed

Rocky Colavito model Louisville Slugger
My weapon of choice

My girlfriend, Lynda, wanted to kill her rapist and wanted me to help her. And, I was more than happy to oblige. We discussed alibis, escape routes, safe houses. But, we didn’t kill him. The more we plotted, the more we realized that we’d be immediate suspects. Lynda had reported her rape to the cops. They were sympathetic but warned that in court it would be a “He said, she said.” Plus, she had established a motive for vigilante justice. And, just as cops always look for the boyfriend first when a woman is murdered, they look for the boyfriend-accomplice first when a rapist has his brains pulped with a Louisville Slugger. We had settled on that as the murder weapon. I no longer had my trusty Rocky Colavito model but Lynda’s little brother had a Reggie Jackson model that would work a treat. She would distract her rapist and I would crush his skull from behind. 

Funny what time did to our relationship – a few years later, I plotted to kill Lynda and she plotted to kill me. Her accomplices were two comrades from her Communist Party cell – the woman a failed modern dancer and the man a failed modern poet. A deadly duo. 

Poster of Chairman Mao and the Red Guard
It was Me vs. Mao

God only knows why but Lynda’s brand of Marxism attracted especially fervent, intelligent, young Whites who were hypnotized by the ravings of their glorious leader – a Hebrew weasel out of the Russian Pale by way of the Brooklyn Pale. He was an imitation Mao and these American kids were his very own Red Guard. I met a talented musician who’d abandoned his French horn scholarship to work in a factory and organize the oppressed workers. I met a beautiful dancer who’d married a Neanderthal negro-convict to convert him to dialectical materialism. I watched her wrestle with reality as she employed the theory of commodification to explain why Tyrone, while on parole, had beaten her bloody, stolen her TV and split.   

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Timothy Leary, Phd
Timothy Leary, Phd and maybe C.I.A.

In the 1960s, we knew that the C.I.A. had used L.S.D. as a truth-serum. We even joked as we toked that Timothy Leary was probably a government agent. We wondered as we got stoned – “What if the entire ‘counterculture’ was created and controlled by some shadowy element in the intelligence world for who knows what purpose?” 

Welp… crazy as it sounds, we now know that the C.I.A. funded the Abstract Expressionist art movement, influential literary journals and Ms. Magazine. And, there is intriguing evidence that Leary and Gloria Steinem were indeed (consciously or not) being controlled by the C.I.A. And, this’ll blow your mind – members of the Grateful Dead now attend the ultra-secret Bohemian Grove – the summer camp of the ruling elite that’s linked to the (gulp) C.I.A. So, like they say, “Just coz you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you… man!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Paging Dr. Quackenstein

Quack psychiatric device
Prototype of a thera-hat

Dr. Quackenstein’s most ingenious “varying modality” was a therapy he developed himself. In his “thera-room,” there was a sunken “thera-pit” very much like the “conversation-pits” found in 1970s living rooms, though to the best of my knowledge those were never called “conversa-pits.” The “thera-pit” was thickly lined with “thera-padding” and filled with “thera-pillows.” Seated on the pillows were a variety of “thera-dolls” – Daddy Doll, Mommy Doll, Anger Doll, Authority Doll and Me Doll.

The sucker… er, I mean, the patient descended into the “thera-pit” to do battle with whichever doll represented the dragon they needed to slay. Ponder, if you will, how potent and healing this metaphoric ritual was – descending into the pit of their psyche, to confront their dragon, the patient wielded not Excalibur but Dr. Quackenstein’s most brilliant invention – the “thera-bat.” (Picture my Rocky Colavito model Louisville Slugger wrapped in foam padding because that’s what it was. And, Quackenstein got it patented!) The patient held said “thera-bat” and beat the bejesus out of whichever doll was their tormentor, or all of the dolls if the patient was having an especially tough day. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Available as a paperback and eBook
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amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Haunted Swindon

Comic fortune tellers with crystal ball
I see a room full of suckers.

Ah, Swindon! Picture Newark, New Jersey with an English accent but minus the charm. That’s Swindon. Worse, when I am there in 1990, everything in Swindon is shut on Sunday – my one day off. Well, everything but the Spiritualist Church. So, I go. The Reverend in charge is a flaming fruit who goes into trance, contacts a spirit of the departed and then asks his geriatric English audience, “Can anyone claim a George?” (Or Ethel, Victoria or Alfred.) Believe it or not, every Sunday someone in this gray congregation can claim a dearly departed so-named. Then, George, Ethel, Victoria or Alfred, speaking in a sepulchral voice through Reverend Fruit, assures the claimant that all is well with them beyond-the-veil in Summerland. The Swindon faithful swallow this bilge and fill the collection plate with “Love Gifts.”

Aleister Crowley - Satanist, Black Magician, mountaineer, chess master
Aleister Crowley the fruitiest of English fruitcakes

Reverend Fruit approaches me one week curious as to what brings someone to his church who is still breathing unaided by a portable oxygen tank. I think he also suspects that I’m on to him. I mention that I had almost claimed the spirit George who had “come through” in the service because I had a dearly departed Uncle George. “Silly,” he lisps while giving me an affectionate, limp-wristed slap on the shoulder “you should have so done.” Then, while shaking hands, he tickles my palm with his middle finger. Summerland in Swindon. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: The "smiling face" of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

What’s my motivation?

Rajneesh aka Osho
“Please to be giving me a stack of $100 bills this high.”

Method Acting teachers are seen as gurus and they embrace this mantle: “I am the great Father Figure, Witch-Doctor, Shrink, the Font of All Wisdom, the Repository of All Knowledge, the Giver of Pleasure and Pain.” No surprise their schools become personality cults. No surprise these cults are especially attractive to young women who have little self-esteem and big “Daddy” issues. The Guru demands that the student emotes at all times. The student is not having a successful scene if the student is not having a nervous breakdown – even if the scene is from Mary Poppins. Simply put – “If you ain’t crying, you ain’t acting.” 

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins
Oh, daddy, take my money and then take me.

One Guru held his entire class captive for two days because one student had not prepared a scene. Two days. No food. No phone calls. No talking. Limited toilet breaks. Very limited. Meanwhile, across town, a revered female Guru sent her students out to pick up strangers in bars and have sex with them – in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. And, people fought to get into these classes. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn