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 pitching pennies against a wall of the corner grocery store just like I see the big boys do. It’s a form of urban horseshoes. I have no idea what the rules are and have only one penny to pitch but I try my best to look tough and cool. I am six. The big boys are sixteen and hanging out on the corner as they always do on summer nights.
They gather under the streetlight and serenade the block with “Earth Angel” and other doo-wop dirges. This is Brooklyn’s answer to the bel canto street singing of Naples. Figures. Most of these punks are second-generation Napolitano. Rico has a sweet tenor voice so he sings lead. And, despite his polio leg-braces, he plays stickball with the gang. They brag about how far he can hit a ball – “I’m tellin’ ya Rico hit da ball three sewers.”
My friends and I are too young to witness the serious nighttime “rumbles” between the local gangs – The Bishops, The Undertakers, The South Brooklyn Boys and The Testors. (They sniff Testorsbrand airplane glue to get high.) But, the following morning, we scavenge their battle scenes in search of bloody souvenirs – chains, bats, pipes, teeth, spent shells even a loaded zip gun. Its barrel is a car aerial attached to a plank with a sliding bolt and rubber bands as primitive trigger-mechanism. We fire it in a basement where it explodes nearly blinding us all. We decide to leave the heavy artillery to the big boys.