October 8, 2010

Part 2: Memories of Mousy, Bumpy and other Levittown hoods

Below are comments about the guys we early Levittowners referred to as "rocks".

Tom Paturzo Baker, 1960
I enjoyed knowing the rocks and was not afraid of them. I found them capable of compassion and all other decent human qualities. The leather jackets and motorcycle boots were a defense against the slings and arrows of our society. They were part of our teenage culture, a reflection of the film media, “Blackboard Jungle” and the “Wild Ones.” The movie "Grease" finally corrected the myth.

Al Smith was a friend of mine. He died at 29, and was a rock who had many excellent human qualities. I could name others who would never harm anyone and treated all with respect. Most of the rocks lived in a fa├žade of toughness as a means of self-defense. They lived in as much fear as anyone. We all had fears and identity problems in those days.

I always liked people who were different. It would be boring if everyone were the same. They challenged our cultural mores and norms and made me think. I liked to talk to the scholars for the same reason. They were not geeks, simply people with different points of view.

Some rocks made the transition into adulthood, graduated from high school, college and a few became teachers. We should avoid stereotyping the rocks as a group. I never regretted knowing the rocks personally. Most would standup and help you if you were in trouble.

Skippy McCarthy 1962
In his "Defense of the Rocks", Tom Paturzo Baker states, "I enjoyed knowing the Rocks and was not afraid of them". Well hell, if I had Tommy's 18-plus inch biceps in 1957, I wouldn't have been so scared of them either. In 1957, you could pick me up by my hindquarters and still have a free hand for groceries. And that's no lie.

In the previous blog entry, no one mentioned the toughest and probably most gracious of them all, and that was Billy Kelly. Pound for pound he was probably the toughest of that whole group. However, the wild nicknames like Bugsy, Mousy and Lucky seemed to highlight the others.

I got to know Billy, for some unknown reason, when I was at the North Village Green one day and he realized my name was McCarthy and like he, an Irishman. He obviously couldn't smell my fear as a lion could. He asked questions of me, this was in 1957, that at this moment I can't recall, and we had an amicable exchange. Over the next few years we'd see each other here and there and I would always respect his domain, and he would acknowledge and say hi. And surprisingly it would never change.

One afternoon in 1960, I'm 16 years old, and at my house on Periwinkle Road, around the block from Azalea Field, when my 10 year-old brother Jerry comes home crying about a group of guys who took his football at Azalea. My WW II generation father looks at me and says, "Skippy you need to go over there and get Jerry's ball back." No problem.

As I'm walking from our house to Azalea I ask my brother who was it that took your ball and he says "Some guys named Mousy, Lucky, Bugsy, etc." Talk about your legs starting to turn to Jell-O. So on one hand I have to face the wrath of "Joe McCarthy Sr. " or on the other the "Rock & Rollers" of Bugsy, Lucky, etc. My life, as short as it was at that time, started to pass before me.

When I arrived at Azalea my worst feelings proved accurate. There were Mousy, Lucky, Bugsy and others from their crowd. Fortunately, there also was some pretty good guys from their crowd like Ernie and Gabe Navarro and Billy Kelly. I saw Billy and approached to explain my predicament. Immediately I had the football back. He was an OK guy, in my book, and I often wonder whatever happened to him.

Yes, I was in the class of '62 at Division Avenue High School, unlike Tommy in '60. But as a younger observer at Azalea Pool and other places, we had the advantage of seeing and being there for all kinds of events. Al Smith, who was held in respect by the rocks, was a great husband and father and left this world a heck of a lot sooner than he should have. May he rest in peace.

Arnie Galeota, 1962
I would have to agree with Skippy's evaluation of the futility of trying to stand up to these guys who were street wise and street tough.

I too was slight of build with no muscles to be found. Through a lot of hard weight lifting, Tom Paturzo Baker had gotten my share of allotted muscles and some of Skippy's too. His biceps were as big as my waist at that time so naturally these "rocks" gave him his due.

I would agree with Tom that they were trying to make a statement with the attitude they carried around and by the way they dressed. Antiestablishment became fashionable with the showing of movies "Rebel Without a Cause", "The Black Board Jungle" and "The Wild Ones" and the tremendous popularity of Elvis Presley.

Being a scrawny kid who had barely experienced the world, I wasn't wise enough yet as to their motives. All I knew was that they were different from most of the people I hung with and I kept my distance as a matter of survival.

I do remember Billy Kelly well. I went to Northside School with him and we were friends, not close friends, but friends. He was always a little distant. When I was in my senior year I had heard rumors that he was seen many nights walking the streets of Levittown after he had been drinking and beating up total strangers for no apparent reason.

It was a rumor never substantiated, but he was a loner and he did seem troubled. He had done some boxing and he was tough so the rumors were believable.

Bumpy came from the other side of Levittown, the Memorial side. Al Smith was close to Bumpy, but Al didn't seem to have to prove anything. He knew he was tough and he never went around intimidating people. He was a nice guy who did have a good marriage with a nice family and was tragically taken all too soon.

Let us not forget guys like Joe Detore who had the need for attention and fulfilled that need by doing outrageous things. He was very short but compensated for that by being strong and aggressive. Sadly he too has passed on.

Michael Haag 1961
I knew Billy Kelly, but it was really my father who knew him well and liked him. Part of the connection was my mother, who was born in Dublin, maiden name Maguire. But there was also my father's upbringing. His father emigrated from Hermuthausen in Germany to London, married there and then emigrated further, to America. He died young, age thirty, of typhoid, in Hannibal, Missouri, and his widow, my grandmother, who was only twenty-five, returned to London with her three children.

That was before the First World War. Times were very hard, and she raised her children in the toughest part of London, the East End, where my father learned to stand up for himself -- which meant learning how to fight. I think he recognized something of himself in Billy Kelly, especially so when Billy took up boxing. My father always thought Billy was very bright, not to mention charming, and encouraged him to keep on with his education, to make something of himself.

But at some point Billy Kelly disappeared from the scene. Dropped out of school and attempted a boxing career, I think. I know nothing about him. He had the makings of success about him, did Billy Kelly, if he could have gotten out of his rut. Anyway, he did not become heavyweight champion of the world otherwise I would have noticed, nor president of the United States.

If you have memories of Levittown's rocks that you would like to share, email them to fbarning@cox.net. At least one more post about Bumpy, Mousy, Bugsy and friends will appear in Frank's blog.

Hoods, not Levittown's rocks, were immortalized in this song from 1955. None of our rocks had motorcycles but the song does describe how they dressed and captures a long-gone era.


[Words and Music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]

He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up 'cycle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101

Well, he never washed his face and he never combed his hair
He had axle grease embedded underneath his fingernails
On the muscle of his arm was a red tattoo
A picture of a heart saying "Mother, I love you"

He had a pretty girlfriend by the name of Mary Lou
But he treated her just like he treated all the rest
And everybody pitied her 'cause everybody knew
He loved that doggone motorcycle best

He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up 'cycle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101

Mary Lou, poor girl, she pleaded and she begged him not to leave
She said, I've got a feeling if you ride tonight I'll grieve
But her tears were shed in vain and her every word was lost
In the rumble of his engine and the smoke from his exhaust

Then he took off like the Devil and there was fire in his eyes
He said, I'll go a thousand miles before the sun can rise
But he hit a screamin' diesel that was California-bound
And when they cleared the wreckage, all they found

Was his black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
But they couldn't find the 'cycle that took off like a gun
And they never found the terror of Highway 101

1 comment:

Janet Caldararo said...

Not naturally inclined to dwell on the past Mike has nevertheless shared this story about Al Smith on more than one occasion over the years. As a teenager Mike had joined a group who were swimming in what I think was something like a reser...voir; very deep. Not being the most experienced swimmer did not deter Mike from joining the rowdy boys near the middle of the water. But, soon he realized he was literally "in over his head"! Not yet willing to look like a fool; Mike continued toward even deeper waters; bobbing above and beneath the water along the way. At some point, panic must have set in and although the rest of the group were busy with their hijinks; Al Smith sensed Mike's dilemma. Al Smith nonchalantly and playfully saved the day (and a sensitive teenager's pride) by giving Mike a tow to more shallow waters. No one was ever the wiser at the time--except Al Smith and Mike! Mike never forgot it. God speed, Al Smith....You certainly do ROCK!