August 7, 2010

Instant culture shock shook 13 Levittown guys who went to college in Nebraska

A recent photo of beautiful downtown Wayne

Wayne State College is 1,500 miles from Levittown and is in the middle of a cornfield. It was instant culture shock for the group of Division Avenue guys went off to the small college in Nebraska in the early 1960s. The Levittown contingent included Ron Albaum, Toby Rutner, Jim McGrath, John Tanner, Warren Zaretsky, Mike Caldararo, Arnie Katz, Bill Stanley, Bill Whalen, the late Bobby Burner, Jim Judson, John Sullivan and Arnie Galeota. Some were in Division’s class of 1960 and others graduated in 1961.
On paper, it did not seem like a match made in heaven, and for some it wasn’t. McGrath and Caldararo have lived there for more than 45 years, so for them it was a fortuitous move. Both are retired teachers. Galeota, class of 1961, was among those who headed west and the following are some of his thoughts of “those wonderful Nebraska days,” as he calls them.

By Arnie Galeota
Wayne State was in a town of about 3 to 4,000 people with a campus population of less than 2,000 students. Most of the students were from small towns in Nebraska and Iowa. There were 11 from Hawaii and four from Michigan who we used to play in touch football.
Why did we pick this college? Well, there is a story to that. Albaum's parents spent the money to have a profile done to see what school would be a good fit for their son. The profile turned up Wayne.
Albaum did a year and talked Caldararo and myself into giving it a try. The word got around among others in Levittown. The cost of going was very inexpensive, which was a factor for a few of us. We all got together and discussed the kind of adventure it might be for all of us to go far away and try to get a college education.
I had all good intensions but became easily side tracked with my new found freedom from a strict father, so I went nuts. Toby, Jimmy, Mike, Bill, John and Warren, all managed to stick it out and graduate. I lasted a year and a half until the Dean of Men informed me that I was out.
When our crew from Levittown and three from New York City first arrived, the word had leaked out that the "the Yorkies” had hit Wayne. It was Sept. 1961 and the weather was dreary. It was cold and our trunks of bedding and clothes hadn't arrived and the heat hadn't been turned on in the dorms. In order to keep warm, when we went to bed we slept between the mattress and the box spring. The mattress substituted as a blanket for me.
After a few weeks some of us had made a few local friends, drinking buddies if you will. We got the inside scoop. The parents of the high school girls, especially the seniors, were given orders not to fraternize with those gangsters from New York. We might rape them and kill them. Now you have to remember the mentality of the farmers of America's heartland. They only know what they've been taught about people from the big city. Even some of the college coeds kept their distance from us.
Some of us felt isolated from the general population so we decided to form our own fraternity. We called it "The Ugly Club" and ironically I was made president for life. Caldararo was vice president. We had one of the guys draw cartoon characters on our sweatshirts with a heading of "The Ugly Club" and your rank or position in the club. He was a cartoonist and from Nebraska. The sweatshirts were all exactly alike except for the character painted on it.
We would sit in the cafeteria together and attract a lot of attention with our outlandish behavior. We were loud and a bit obnoxious, but entertaining. After dinner, the club would gather in the student union and have a meeting where we would go over the business of the day. We would start planning our weekend drinking binge except for Caldararo. He wasn't into that. He hooked up with a Nebraska farmer's daughter rather quickly. Her name is Janet, they have been married for 46 years and she is a terrific person.
One midweek afternoon Jim McGrath, Arnie Katz and I went and bought a cheap car, and I mean cheap. It was an old black early 1950s Chevy. It had a column standard shift and it just ran. It cost about $200 and four of us chipped in. Ron Albaum was the 4th party. The day we picked up the car, Ron had a class so we registered it in his name, with no insurance of course.
That first weekend we had the car the four of us took a trip to a slightly larger town called Freemont 30 miles away. We rode around that town for a while until we found a large pizza place where there was some co-ed dancing going on. McGrath and I managed to get two of the girls interested in us so we took Katz and Albaum to a hotel so they could sit in the lobby until Jim and I completed our getting acquainted time period. We took the girls back after an hour, went and picked up the guys and went back to the campus.
The following weekend McGrath and I had a prearranged date with the girls and we took Katz along, Albaum declined. We entered the same pizza parlor where we were warned by the girls that some of the guys were pissed off about us moving in on their girls.
All of a sudden a group of guys started gathering. The three of us put our backs together so we could protect each other but I wasn't much of a fighter, but McGrath was ready and so was Katz. I wisely suggested we get out the back door since we were outnumbered. Fortunately they agreed so we managed to get out with little time to spare.
The next weekend just McGrath and I made the trip, no Katz. But this time we met the girls away from that pizza joint. We wound up sleeping in the car on the side of the road and the girls stayed with us but no sex, just some making out. We never saw them again.
A few weeks later Albaum's parents happened to drop in at Wayne, 1500 miles from where they lived in Levittown. His father was an executive in a button company and he traveled a lot, so his parents made a side trip to see us. I came home from a class, one of the very few I attended, and in Albaum's room I see McGrath, Katz and Ron and his father and mother. I had grown up with the Albaums (the twins, Ron and Don), we lived on the same block so I knew his parents well. His father was furious. He was madder at Ron than he was at us for the car being put in his name and therefore they'd be liable in the event of an accident. He sold the car since it was his to sell and never gave us our money back. He was mad at us too and he got even.
Bill Whalen was a muscular, tough guy who was our protector. He wrestled and played football for Division. He dated the late Chris Wilkens for a while. Legend has it that after he made his presence felt by making the varsity football team at Wayne, he went to a bar one night where all the players hung out. He made a public statement that it was hands off the guys from Long Island or they'd answer to him. Now that may be an exaggeration of the truth, but no one ever hassled any of us. We became friends with a lot of those guys.
Whalen used to room with McGrath, who was a fantastic light-weight wrestler in high school and coached the sport for many decades in Nebraska. Whalen knew we were all afraid of him, not terrified but respectful of his ability to hurt people. He used to come in on weekends in the middle of the night and Jimmy would be sound asleep. Bill didn't care, he would put on all the lights, make all the noise he wanted and when he finally decided to go to bed he would throw a shoe at Jimmy and tell him to turn out the lights. Jimmy was more fearless than I was so I was glad he was rooming with Whalen instead of me, but he got up and turned out the lights. Whalen never put a hand on any of us. He didn't have to.
Whalen was dating a girl named Laveryl Nelson. She had a striking resemblance to Chris Wilkens who Bill had been going out with, but it was over with them. Someone made the stupid remark that he was interested in Laveryl because she looked like Chris and he was pining over their breakup.
Well, it got back to him that I made the statement, which wasn't true. I was warned that he was waiting for me at the cafeteria where he was going to tear my head off. Needless to say, I was terrified but I thought to myself, I better face him and get it over with since I couldn't avoid him on campus for too long.
I remember walking into the cafeteria, seeing Bill and several of the guys sitting at a table with a look on their faces that could only mean a funeral was a strong possibility. I walked right up to him short of breadth, they had no Depends in those days, so I was on my own. I said, "Before you kill me, I had nothing to do with it.” He saw the look of terror in my face and busted out laughing. What I didn't know was that he had found out who the guilty party was. Well, I cleaned out my shorts and got my lunch.
I will tell you that going to school in Nebraska grew on most of us and we learned how to deal with the culture shock. Some of us learned how to use squirrel guns and me personally, I learned how to drink beer. I thought I knew how from Sid's deli in Levittown, but I realized I was a novice when I got to Wayne State.


Anonymous said...

Excuse me if I am still chuckling; and after showing this to Mike(our non-typist type; you know, Frank!)I have just a couple of vignettes to add...

First; Mike was 17 years old when he graduated from high school and had all the good intentions of joining the army after graduation. He had gone for the physical, etc. and only needed a parent to sign for permission. Wisely, his mother refused and as a result arrived on Wayne State's campus three weeks after the semester had started in 1960. The rest is history. Thank you Ronnie!

Second; Mike recalls the so-called hunting trip as a search for birds alright....chickens! The boys thought they were pheasants! Do we believe it??...ah, New Yorkers...

Third; Mike has told the story of another wiry friend from Gerard,Ohio named Joe Sabotino (properly adopted by the New York crowd) who was volunteered to be dropped from a second-floor dorm window via tied-together sheets to dangle in front of a first-floor window of a guy named Gene who reportedly had been "ratting-out" the boys from New York! Hilarious! What were these guys thinking?? Sadly, Joe died not long after our college years; but we had stopped once to see him in Ohio on one of our many road trips back to the east coast. Everyone had one last good laugh over that incident!

As Arnie said most of the guys probably look back on those years as the best of times; no matter if they stuck it out or not. The rest of us just think it was probably the next best thing to ANIMAL HOUSE!

jmcgrath said...

Arnie, I remember it all, but one part a little different. The incident with the girls was in Norfolk, Neb. in a place called Kings Ballroom. There was a band and a large dance floor that resembled a roller rink. I was dancing a slow dance, and Katz told me that some guy threw a cigarette at me. I walked up to him and asked if he indeed did it (I guess she was his girl friend)and he said yes. As he was about to say something else, I hit him and he went down and did not get up. All his buddies gathered around. Security came over and stopped it from going further. They (10) did in fact wait for us outside and we did make it out through a side door.

John said...

The trip to Wayne was indeed an something that changed many lives.
I recall arriving with 6 others in Omaha and he had missed daily buss to Wayne. No problem, take a cab the 125 miles. Needless to say the cabie wanted his bread up front.The localswere actually disappointed as they had planned a little greeting. Wonderful people in Nebraska who will always be fondly recalled in my memories.
One story comes to mindwhic reinforces the Animal House stereotype.It seems they housed us all in Terrace Hall and one of the ritauls on campus was to have the female students serrande the boys. One of us, probably Toby Rutner got the idea to fill the waste baskets with water and return the salute. Needles to say Dean Merriman was not amused and claimed we were all latent homesexuals. Who knew?
None of the 13 exiles should be lacking a memory of a special moment with a gal in the Willow Bowl. John Tanner