October 7, 2010

Part 1: Memories of Mousy, Bumpy and other Levittown hoods

The photo is of Marlon Brando in the 1953 motion picture, "The Wild One." When a girl asks him "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?," he answers with "What do you got?"

Tim Lavey, class of 1963, posted the following in Facebook:
I like to think I started as a seventh grader at Division Avenue at the very close of the hood era (1957). I'll always remember my very first day. As I looked out the window, someone pointed out to me a guy named Mousy Lulenski in black leather, DA haircut, etc. pacing the school grounds. I was told he had just been released from reform school and that he could not enter the high school. I don't know if any of it was true, but it certainly made an initial impression on me.

By Frank Barning
Tim Lavey's comments triggered the idea that much could be posted here about the era that he had so innocently entered. Hey, I actually knew Mousy.

The hoods, my 1960 classmates called them "rocks", were tough-looking guys (and some dolls) who frequented our school and community. They had some great nicknames: Mousy, Bumpy, Lucky, Rocky and Bugsy. Most had DA (duck's ass) haircuts, even the girls. About 20-years later, this era was nostalgically glamorized by fictional characters such as Danny Zuko in Grease and The Foz of Happy Days fame.

They were called rocks because they considered themselves to be “hard” guys. By today’s standards, they were pretty tame, but back at Division Avenue High School in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they certainly stood out from the rest of us who were mostly pure white bread. I doubt that Mousy had been to reform school, but it helps to build a legend.

Most of us knew some of the rocks. In junior high at what was known as Division Avenue School, in 1954 Mousy (Joe Lulenski) entered my world and at first I was a bit scared of him. He was this skinny little guy who smelled of Lucky Strikes and always wore a motorcycle jacket. He also wore an attitude that told the world to screw off.

For some reason, out of nowhere, he wanted to be friendly with me and would give me a wave and a hello in the school halls most mornings. After getting comfortable with that, I started to reply “Hello Mousy.” After a couple of hello Mousys, he took me aside and said, “What’s my name?” I replied “Mousy.” His reply was, “No, my name is Joe,” and he punched me on the arm.

The next time we met in the hall, I greeted him with “Hello Joe.” He grabbed me by the shoulders, punched me on the arm and stated, “My name is Mousy.” For awhile, no matter what I called him, it was the wrong name and I got a punch.

Eventually, I got a smile with the punch and the punch became a tap. There never was any malice on his part and I looked forward to the exchange. I’m sorry that I never thought to ask him how he got the nickname Mousy.

The most well known of the Levittown rocks was Bumpy, who attended Levittown Memorial High School after some time at Division during junior high. The Bump roamed all over Levittown with his crew and was a legend. His name was Ed Whiting. Few know that the famous song, “Leader of the Pack,” was loosely based on Bumpy. It was written by Ellie Greenwich who graduated from Memorial in around 1957.

Susan Weldon 1960
i was in the same sorority as ellie greenwich at hofstra and she and i shared stories about bumpy. many years later she starred in a broadway play about her and jeff barry and i went to see it and waited outside the stage door. she remembered me and we chatted about levittown and hofstra and it was then that she told me that the leader of the pack was bumpy.

i was always fascinated by the "rocks" and got along pretty well with them. i loved al smith. he was a gentle man. Bumpy i could do without.

Here are other recollections of Mousy:

Rich Humbert, 1960
My memories of Mousy: Crusty but benign. For a while in junior high, he was my idol and role model...a short while. But I remember once while we were waiting for music class to start, Mousy sat down at the piano and began to play a really rockin' boogie
woogie. As soon as, the music teacher, Miss Stahman, entered he stopped and slouched back to his seat somewhat embarrassed.

Jeff Lincer, 1960
What happened to all the kids that dropped out or were tossed out of school? You remember those "greasers" who moved out from the city and most of the student body feared.

In a way they were unforgettable to me but I have a feeling they have been forgotten by most. What happened to the “hoods” and the others that didn’t have an adult to guide and encourage them? What happened to Joe “Mousy” Lulenski and his lieutenant, “Lucky” O’Mack? What ever happened to Lucky’s younger brother “Bugsy” who was a great gymnast until he got sucked into the gang?

I knew them mostly because they hung out at Whelan’s Drug where I worked. My Mom, who also worked there, once told me (many years later) that Bugsy turned out OK and even brought his new wife in to meet my Mom one day. That made me feel badly, since I had broken his leg in two places in a fight just outside Whelan’s.

There was another tough kid, Jimmie Wittneben, who saved my bacon once and I’ll never forget him. Did any of them get a helping hand or another opportunity to get an education? Most of them dropped out of school when they were about 16 (around 1958). What did they make of their lives?

If you have memories of Levittown's rocks that you would like to share, email them to fbarning@cox.net. At least two more posts about Bumpy, Mousy and friends will appear here. Remember, Grease is the word

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