Tony Unbatz, the top punk on my block, is known to be, as his Italian nickname implies, crazy – “batz.” He’ll do anything on a dare and more without one. He’s a skinny kid with a nose bigger than he is. He weighs at most a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet and since he’s drenched in beer that’s what he weighs tonight. Tony dresses like Marlon Brando in The Wild One – motorcycle jacket, boots and garrison belt. And, like all the Juvenile Delinquents in 1950s America, he apes Brando’s schtick – “Don’t bug me coz I’m a sullen, sensitive, tough-but-tender, misunderstood punk-poet.” The juvenile delinquents of Brooklyn even try to mimic Brando’s Southern accent from The Wild One. When Beatlemania hits Brooklyn, the punk-poets of that era attempt a Liverpool accent, “Toydy toyd and toyd meets the Moysey.” Brooklyn rock bands have to pretend to be English to get gigs and so they name themselves – The Churchills, The Cuppa Tease and The Chamber Pots.
I’m a Brooklyn boy. Born dead center in the 20th century – 1950 A.B. That’s Anno Brooklyn. In my Brooklyn, green canvas awnings shade the storefront windows and a glass globe filled with blue water swings over the pharmacy door. The butcher has sawdust on his floor and the grocer has a straw boater on his head. Kids are nicknamed Butch, Spike and Bruiser. (And, these are the girls!) Red and white striped poles twirl in front of the competing barbershops of Angelo and Nick. Angelo is humorless, maybe because he has a concentration-camp tattoo on his arm. But, Nick has a devil-may-care manner and sports the pencil-thin mustache of a gigolo.
It is in the mirrored, macho salons of Nick and Angelo that I learn how to be Homo Brooklyn. No, not that type of homo. (Whata you a wiseguy?) I mean a real Homo. A man’s man. A mensch. It’s where I learn the hard-but-fair rule of life – “If you leave, you lose your turn.” It’s where I learn to dismiss all current baseball players as overpaid pussies not worthy of carrying the jockstrap of Saint Joe DiMaggio. It’s where I learn the permitted hairstyles for Homo Brooklyn– Baldy, Flat Top and Elvis. It’s where I learn to distinguish between the after-shaves Bay Rum, Old Spice and Aqua Velva; and learn the proper application of Dixie Pomade – a hair goop thicker than axle grease. In Angelo’s and Nick’s, I ogle true-crime magazines –
I Escaped the Vampire-Nympho of Newark!
And Hollywood gossip-rags –
I Escaped Tinseltown’s Nympho Pajama Party!
And men’s-adventure journals –
I Escaped the Lair of the Lesbian Nazi-Nympho!
Most importantly, I learn how to hide “dirty” magazines like Gent, Dude and Dapper inside the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. When Nick and Angelo catch me, they threaten to tell my mother and give me a Baldy. But, I always spot a twinkle in their eyes as they shake their razor strops at me.