My Road to Damascus

Brooklyn College
Harvard, eat ya heart out!

It happened on a bright June day in 1967. I was walking across the surprisingly bucolic campus of Brooklyn College nestled inside the decidedly un-bucolic Flatbush. Many of the campus buildings were ivy-covered brick so who needed the Ivy League? I was a recent Catholic high school graduate there for a day of testing and orientation. I was unaware that I was in the epicenter of Jewish communist activism. 

Brooklyn College was so radical it was called “the little red school house” but not to be confused with The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village. Both institutions graduated a spectacularly disproportionate number of Levantines who were moaning-Marxists of dubious sexuality and (worst of all) folk singers. 

The co-eds at Brooklyn College were evenly divided into two opposing camps. 

Nothing’s too good for Daddy’s little princess.
  • The “JAPs” (Jewish American Princesses) had been gifted nose jobs as high school graduation presents and came to class loaded for bear i.e. they were out to land a nice Jewish boy preferably in pre-med or pre-law. I had never been in close proximity to such exotic creatures and gazed open-mouthed at them in class as they simultaneously adjusted their hair, stockings and bra while filing their nails and applying lipstick. I was a goy so I was invisible to them. They were brainless and harmless and at least afforded me a chubby or two.    
Vintage bearded lady
I think she sat behind me in Psych 101.
  • The “Rachels” and “Ruths” bore their Hebraic-honkers like a badge of honor. Their wiry hair was left to nature and they favored sandals, folk skirts and unshaven legs. Their moustaches were unshaven, too. They scurried around campus clutching to their peasant-blouse covered bosoms Joan Baez LPs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti poetry books and Wilhelm Reich’s The Function of the Orgasm. (I wouldn’t fuck these hectoring yentas with your dick.)    

So… I was strolling across campus feeling like Joe College when a Rachel ran up to me screaming like a banshee, slavering like a bronco and demanding that I boycott class because LBJ was bombing Vietnam. She shoved a flyer into my hand and her unshaven face into mine and ranted about nukes, napalm and negroes. I thanked her and promised to read the flyer but she screamed into my face, “Nazi” and ran to her next target. I tried to proceed but was forced to walk a gauntlet of Rachels, Ruths and their male counterparts – the Bruces and Barrys. All screaming. All slavering. All thrusting flyers. All demanding that Brooklyn College be brought to a standstill because LBJ was bombing Vietnam.       

The very next day the Six Day War broke out between Israel and Egypt and I was back on campus for more testing. 

So… I was strolling across campus feeling like Joe College when the very same Rachel ran up to me screaming like a banshee, slavering like a bronco and demanding that I boycott class because LBJ was not bombing Cairo. She shoved a flyer into my hand and her unshaven face into mine and ranted about Auschwitz, Anne Frank and Arabs. I thanked her and promised to read the flyer but she screamed into my face, “Nazi” and ran to her next target. I tried to proceed but was forced to walk a gauntlet of Rachels, Ruths and their male counterparts – the Bruces and Barrys. All screaming. All slavering. All thrusting flyers. All demanding that Brooklyn College be brought to a standstill because LBJ was not bombing Cairo. 

In fact, these leftist humanitarians wanted Cairo nuked!       

Cairo – I figure 10 million dead before the Soviet retaliation.

Suddenly and e’en like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, I was knocked to the ground by a blinding light of revelation. I then picked myself up and stood in the center of Brooklyn College, in the center of Flatbush, in the center of Brooklyn and knew in the center of my Catholic, Italian-American soul that I was in enemy territory. The scales had fallen from my eyes! I knew that the Rachels, Ruths, Bruces, Barrys and, yes, even the JAPs were not me. Not mine. Not American. All their supposedly selfless political activism was all about them. (And, they have done nothing to dissuade me of that conclusion in the more than fifty years since my Damascene conversion.)

  
 

St. Paul on the road to Damascus
You think it was easy getting that horse on campus?

Day of Infamy

During the Six Day War, Israel, our supposed ally, deliberately attacked and attempted to sink the USS Liberty an intelligence ship observing the war from the Mediterranean. In order to prevent the Liberty from reporting Israeli war crimes, Israel killed 34 U.S. sailors and wounded 171 more. Israeli planes even machine-gunned U.S. sailors attempting to escape in life rafts.

Meanwhile, Israeli dupes inside the White House almost gave my Brooklyn College classmates their dream. They almost tricked LBJ into nuking Cairo. (Take a minute to imagine that scenario.) Then, the dupes and LBJ conducted a massive cover up. The surviving sailors were ordered and threatened into silence. 

Israel claims its act of treachery carried out on a U.S. ship clearly flying the Stars and Stripes was a tragic mistake.  

 If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I wanna talk to you about. 

USS Liberty

POSTSCRIPT

In the 1970s, I learned that a former classmate at Brooklyn College had machine gunned many Palestinian women and children to death. When I knew this particular Bruce, he was a “peace & granola” hippie-dippie-trippie type. Then he got that Old Time Religion. Its a sad fact that from Meyer Kahane and the Jewish Defense League on, Brooklyn has been the breeding ground of Israel’s most violent fundamentalist lunatics.

Whenever I hear wild-eyed, wiry-haired women living on illegal Jewish settlements being interviewed with a baby on one hip and an uzi on the other their Brooklyn accents are those of the Rachels and Ruths I first encountered on that bright June day in 1967 on the surprisingly bucolic campus of Brooklyn College.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Fuckin’ “A ” Bomb

Newspaper headline: Truman says Russia set off atom blast
“Bring it on, ya commie creeps, ya!

On the stoops of 1950s Brooklyn, the subjects debated included sex, race, sex, religion, sex, baseball, sex, politics, sex and the price of pork bellies on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. But, once the Russkies got the “H” Bomb and thus trumped our “A” Bomb the most hotly debated topic was nuclear proliferation – 

“Lissen kid, when World War Three breaks out, Brooklyn goes first.” 

“How come?” I gulped.  

“How come? Ya kiddin’ me? The Navy Yard!” 

Aerial view of the Brooklyn Navy yard
What ya call your “WW2” was won right here?
Ya got a problem wit dat?

Now, it must be said that the Brooklyn Navy Yard played a major, nay, indispensable role in the victory of World War Two. Brooklyn was/is justly proud of its contribution. But, with hindsight and considerable regret, I confess I’m not convinced that by 1955 Brooklyn would have been #1 on Moscow’s hit list. In 1945? You bet yer ass. 1955? Mmm… maybe not. 

Brooklyn Bridge after nuclear attack
As long as “trendy” Brooklyn goes first, I’ll take it.

Today, I would consider it a boon to humanity if Moscow nuked Brooklyn. I long to see its galleries of ironic art incinerated; its ubiquitous nannies and au pairs obliterated; the yummy mummies who employ them turned to dust; the metrosexual soyboys of Williamsburg and Bushwick reduced to atoms and Brooklyn’s stoops and vestibules left standing naked against the angry sky – the buildings to which they’d been attached blown all the way to Canarsie. Then, out of the rubble, tiny antennae will feel, push and emerge as King Cockroach reclaims the county of Kings.

children hiding under school desks in 1950s nuclear drill
Hey, commies, duck & cover this!

Like most kids in Cold War Brooklyn, I spent a considerable amount of time cowering inside a “fallout shelter” i.e. stuffed under my school desk. Our nuns at St. John the Pederast School took these survival drills deadly seriously. They demanded fingers on lips and hands on rosary beads until the all clear. (These sirens were a major part of the soundscape of my Brooklyn childhood but, for the life of me, I can’t remember when their blaring stopped.)

In October of 1962, during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was only twelve but already a political junkie so I was understandably scared shitless.  The morning after JFK’s famous speech to the nation when nuclear holocaust seemed moments away, my mother called her six children into the kitchen and explained that we might not ever see each other again but that we shouldn’t worry coz we’d all be “going together in a flash” – she at home, we at school and our father in his Wall Street office. Then in the throaty melodramatic tone she’d learned as a wannabe actress, she read a poem to us. It described New York City under nuclear attack. I found the description of the waters of New York harbor flooding into the canyons of Wall Street particularly harrowing and was glad that my father worked on a high floor there. Then I crawled to school sure that I’d never see lunch again let alone my siblings. I took some solace in the fact that the Yankees had just beaten the Giants in the World Series and would (like Cagney in White Heat) go out “top of the world, Ma!”  

New York City ablaze after nuclear attack
There goes the Navy Yard.
Oh well, looks like Bayonne is safe!

I’ve since learned that the world wasn’t as close to nuclear Armageddon as I thought at the time. Various back channel assets and deep state actors on both sides of the standoff had agreed to not blow each other to smithereens. So, as JFK and Khrushchev blustered and bluffed, the fate of the world had already been taken from their hands, sealed and saved.

Oh sure, now ya tell me! Thanks a fuckin’ lot.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in 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

Available as an eBook here

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Moon Over Bensonhurst

Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Jason Matthews and Terry Shand

During and just after World War Two, Brooklyn became America’s surrogate home town. In the war movies, every tank and submarine crew included a much-loved, wise-crackin’, skirt chasin’ guy from Flatbush. The comic Phil Foster carried this tradition into outer space as the most unlikely astronaut in history. In the 1955 low-budge flick Conquest of Space, “Flatbush Phil” stares out the space ship porthole as it circles the Earth and shouts, “Hey, deres Brooklyn. How ‘re da Dodgers doin’?”

Film poster for Conquest of Space (1955)

I think Brooklyn’s much loved and easily imitated Brooklynese accent helped make the borough a shared joke that bonded military units and the folks back home. Do you remember when anytime someone announced on a radio or TV program that they were from Brooklyn the audience would break into instant laughter and applause? I’m not sure anyone even knew why they did that. But, it might have been down to a shared folk memory. After all, this was a time when 1-in-4 Americans could trace their family back to Brooklyn! (Probably 3-in-4 wanted to chase them back there!)

Meanwhile, the tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley, always on the lookout for a hit, mined the instant folksiness, humor and sentimentality of Brooklyn. Whipping out their “June – Moon” rhyming dictionary they produced delightful ditties like Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Matthews & Shand. (Believe it or not, Guy Lombardo did a very catchy version of it.) And, Same Moon Shines In Brooklyn by Felsen & Peters.

Welcome to Brooklyn - 4th largest city in America.
Hey, whataya talkin’ about? It’s the THIRD largest!

Another sweet, nostalgic tune is In Brooklyn by John Benson Brooks and Stanley Adams. Benson Brooks later composed the brilliant jazz-blues piece Alabama Concerto. Adams wrote lyrics for Hoagy Carmichael and Visitor Herbert. All the songs mentioned were written in the midst or the shadow of WW2.

45rpm cover for Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond
The Brill Building does Brooklyn

The centre of pop music songwriting in New York moved uptown from Tin Pan Alley on W. 28th st. to midtown’s Brill Building. But, so many of the composers and lyricists who worked there were from Brooklyn that it should have been called the Brooklyn Building. Just read the list below and you’ll see that the “Sound of Brooklyn” became the “Sound of America.”

Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka, Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus, Barry Mann.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
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Some Entertained Angels Unawares

Vintage Archie comic book cover
Uncle Sam even got Jughead’s ass!

Place: Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn

Time: Early morning. November. 1969

Weather: Fareezzing fucking cold.

I am standing in a long line of young men, all in our underwear, all shivering and all ascared to be in a long hallway waiting for our physicals, waiting for our fates. 

  • So, this is the Army, I muse.
  • Shivering before I die, I muse.
  • Nixon can shove it up Kissinger’s ass, I muse.

Then, I hear a voice. Faint. It comes from mid-air just above and to the left of my head. The voice says, “Walk out.” The voice repeats, “Walk out.” Like a good soldier, I obey orders. I get dressed. I walk out. No one says, “Hey, you.” No sentry shouts, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” I go home. I wait for another letter pushed under my door. I wait for the knock of the MPs. Nothing. Then, a week later, the Lottery brings deliverance in the form of a life-saving high number. And, just like that, it’s over. Over. I have slipped through the cracks. I have avoided Vietnam – avoided the Draft, dismemberment, death. I feel joy, of course, but it’s tempered by survivor’s guilt – I know young men who have lost the Lottery. Most of all I give thanks to that Voice. How? What? Why? Who was that Voice? Was it the voice of my Guardian Angel? I didn’t believe I had a Guardian Angel but I’d been hedging my Catholic bets and sorta-kinda hoping he was there. 

Guardian Angel walking with little boy
“Walk out.”
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Mongolian Porn Conquers Milwaukee

Billboard - Beautify America - Get a Haircut
Everyone was after my scalp!

Dilemma: I viewed the citizens of Milwaukee as my tribe – transplanted, Brooklyn stoop-sitters. But, they viewed me as a recruiting officer for the Viet Cong. 

Solution: I had to change how Milwaukee saw me. I had to shave my beard. I had to cut my hair. 

I loved my shaggy self, but I was hungry, broke and beaten. So, when a movie theater offered me work as an usher, but only if I took a haircut, I took a haircut. The barber howled with glee as he hacked away at my freaky flag while his waiting customers pointed and giggled at my humiliation. It was the most painful haircut I have ever taken and the worst. But, it worked. It made me invisible.

The duplex movie house that hired me was in downtown Milwaukee. Downstairs it ran Julie Andrews musicals while upstairs it screened what passed for porn in Catholic Milwaukee. Back in Sheboygan, I had seen the movie Goodbye, Columbus. When Ali McGraw dove naked into a swimming pool a celluloid covered the entire screen. Nude scene over – the disappeared. I was one shocked New Yorker. The locals didn’t even blink. But, Milwaukee was more sophisticated than Sheboygan. In fact, we screened the world’s only Mongolian soft-core porn film and that classic was held over for weeks. 

Vintage photo of Mongolian women in traditional dress

So, downstairs it was all little old ladies in hats and upstairs it all was dirty old men in trench coats. Oh, and the Vice Squad. They were upstairs a lot, especially for the Mongolian porn. They needed multiple viewings to fully grasp the depth of the film’s decadence. They’d push past me with a quick flash of the badge and a quick grunt of “Vice.” When I was bored, I’d tear the cinemagoers tickets and send the cinemagoers to the wrong cinema. I did so enjoy imagining their confused faces as they waited for Julie Andrews to break out of her bra and the naked Mongolians to break into song. 

I also had to skulk around both cinemas, flashlight in hand, ensuring that no one had their feet on the seats or was smoking in the “No Smoking” section or jerking-off in the “No Jerking-off” section. You gotta watch those little old ladies every minute! 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Bridge on the River Milwaukee

A drawbridge over the Milwaukee River
Ya gotta time your jump just right!

I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in strange towns and since I was broke that was my only entertainment in Milwaukee – a strange town indeed. On Saturday nights, I watched German and Polish farm-boys, come to the big city for an evening of beer drinking and beer vomiting, challenge each other to daredevil leaps across the opening drawbridges that spanned the Milwaukee River. Sometimes they made it. 

Milwaukee hippiedom amounted to one music store that sold records, bongs and crucially, pot to put in those bongs. It was there I met a speed-freak wraith named Tulip. This sixteen-year-old ruin was another sign to me that all was not well in the post-Woodstock days of 1969. We’d just had Manson. Altamont lay dead ahead. The party was if not over, definitely winding down and the casualties were piling up.

Stoned hippie girl
Tulip was half this chick’s weight – if that.

Earlier that summer, I’d met another faded flower child. She had allowed a motorcycle gang to pull out all her teeth with pliers. She was tripping on acid at the time of the extraction and was sure her sacrifice would win her the bikers’ undying approbation. No wonder I felt a millennial chill. 

Tulip asked me for spare change when she’d been kicked out of the record store for loitering with sonic-erotic intent. She was one of several speed freaks I’d observed attach themselves to the front of the mountainous Marshall amplifier used to play records at ear-bleed volume. They glued their emaciated bodies to the amp’s front like an octopus to a rock. There they clung thrusting their pathetically thin pelvises into the vibrating sound cone as they and the guitar solo reached climax. And, there they remained until the store clerk peeled them off or the music ended and they slid to the floor in post-coital bliss.

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
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I Am A Fugitive From Milwaukee

Vintage movie poster for I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang
My fantasy life in celluloid

I reckoned my next/best hope was Milwaukee. (And, if that isn’t the textbook definition of a dilemma I don’t know what is.) But, I figured it was a big enough city where I could be anonymous and find a job – maybe even an acting job. If Milwaukee didn’t work out, I’d ride the rails. In yet another LSD-addled fantasy, I hallucinated my life as a rugged, soulful vagabond – Paul Muni in I Am A Fugitive from A Chain Gang, but with music by Woody Guthrie. I might even change my name to Woody or Slim and I would wear nothing but denim accented with red bandanas. I’d learn harmonica and my Mulligan Stew would be legendary in hobo jungles from Bangor to Baja. 

Yeah, just try and find me, Uncle Sam. So, one morning after Steve left for work, I left him a note. Then I grabbed my few rags, grabbed a Greyhound and made for Milwaukee aka “Beertown.” 

Vintage neon sign - Milwaukee Grill

Dilemma: Milwaukee was Sheboygan, only larger and less welcoming. Worse – it reeked of roasting hops, beer and beer vomit. I hated beer. I hated beer vomit. And, “Beertown” hated me. 

HHHEEELLLPPPP!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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And as an eBook here
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Mention My Name In Sheboygan

Vintage postcard of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
THEIR Town

Sheboygan looked like Our Town and it was. As in: “This is our town you no-good, long-haired, faggot hippie-freak! What the fuck do you think you’re doing in our town? If you so much as look at one of our women (not that a faggot like you looks at women), we’ll cut your dick off and throw it on the grill at our next Bratwurst Festival.” 

As I’d driven into Sheboygan, I’d passed this cheery, road sign – 

Welcome to Sheboygan!

Bratwurst capital of the world!

The sign was lined with the crests of the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Masons, Moose, Owls and Odd Fellows – everything but the Raccoon Lodge and the Mystic Knights of the Sea. But, the town’s “Welcome Wagon” committee hadn’t taken that big-hearted, big-bratwurst sentiment to heart; especially where bearded, longhaired, hippie-freaks were concerned. If you looked like I did and weren’t in college or crippled then folks, especially in places like Sheboygan, were mighty suspicious –

“Why aren’t you in the Army, boy?”

Sheboygan, Wi. welcome sign
Or… not!

You know the scene in the movie where the stranger walks down Main Street and merchants pull down their shades and hang the “Closed” sign on the door while parents cover their kids’ eyes and pull them indoors? That was me in Sheboygan in 1969. You know the movie scene in which the stranger turns a corner and walks smack into the high school football team who proceed to kick the stranger’s long-haired behind? That was me. Or, the scene where the town’s folk speak angrily about the stranger in the third person while the stranger is standing right next to them? Me, again. So, getting a job in Sheboygan in 1969 was near-on impossible. In fact, it was impossible. Employers asked to see my Draft card which listed me as 1A, which marked me as bound for Saigon which raised alarm bells about my being in Sheboygan and close to Canada. 

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
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Love in the Land O Lakes

Vintage Land O lakes butter wrapper
I knew she was beckoning to me and me alone!

To avoid the Draft, Steve who’d been my drama teacher in the Catholic seminary, suggested I move in with him in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. It seemed like the best way to save my 1A ass. If the Draft noose tightened, I could easily slip across Lake Michigan to Canada and safety. In my LSD-addled brain, I hallucinated myself wearing a leather-fringed jacket while felling a redwood on the shore of Lake Michigan which I assumed was an easily navigable, tranquil pond. I imagined myself hewing a canoe out of the fallen trunk then paddling across to Canada where the Indian maiden pictured on packages of Land O’ Lakes butter would await me – kneeling on a rock, her arms extended in wise, warm Native American greeting. We would then retire to her wigwam for some wise, warm, Native American fucking. When my squaw and I presented our papoose to the people of Canada, they would toss their Mountie hats in the air while Neil Young and Joni Mitchell serenaded the scene. Never mind that had I canoed across Lake Michigan I would have landed in… oops… Michigan. (So, okay, geography wasn’t my strong suit.)

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