Wednesday, December 15, 2010
THE FIRST BOHEMIAN IN MY LIFE
Edwin Forrest Ward’s
The First Bohemian in My Life –Take One, December 14th and 15th in the year 2010.
Copyright December 15, 2010: Edwin Forrest Ward & the ImageMaker
Written for STORIES STORIES BRING YOUR STORIES
Stories Live on Stage at 7 PM
In The Jungle Room of The Mercury Café
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
THE FIRST BOHEMIAN IN MY LIFE
It’s a given: omission tarnishes, that’s why I prefer the device of practiced exaggeration - (after all I’m Irish with a mother and Grandmother from County Mayo) - as simply putting more light - (as would a-lead-to-gold-alchemist-of-old) - onto the murky matters of human-hood, (hell, lies suffice if circumstances demand it), the particular matter currently under consideration being a question and its answer.
So this is for old friends, Glenn and Brenda, whose names have been changed, even though almost fifty years has passed since last we believed in the dance we did.
There’ve been many Fast Eddies in the histories of my contemporaries, so when one fine winter’s morning my beautiful Granddaughter, Dannica Kaleigh, called me Ehday after awakening from her one year old’s long night’s sleep, I knew another new fictional narrator within had been baptized. So here’s Ehday’s - that would be me on some creative non fictional level - Ehday’s first yarn. And for those old friends here tonight, oh yes, it’s another one of them fist fight, Friday night, insights that I hope to reveal.
While writing an historical essay for a brochure to accompany the Colorado Historical Society’s exhibition Mile High and underground, an exhibition of Bohemian Denver artifacts at the Byers-Evans House, Ehday could not help but ponder who was the first Bohemian in his life? A question without an easy answer; nonetheless, after much consideration came Ehday’s good-as-any guess: not the poets of his artistic emergence in Denver, not the overtly friendly faculty advisors of his university days, nor the G-something-teen pay scale mentor of a lab mate at the A.E.C. (as in Atomic Energy Commission where Ehday worked a while in the Sixties – a different kind of guru: science, hey?) but rather it was an accidental geographical friend, a kid among thousands Ehday’s age who lived within a ten blocks radius of the Philadelphia row home where he grew up: one Blaine Splender (no kidding!), a street-corner-hang-out acquaintance of Ehday’s, who personally preferred the handle Splendo. Because Blaine and Ehday attended different schools – Splendo: the public Edwin Forrest; Ehday: the Catholic Saint Bernards, an irony too complicated to reveal without veering too far off track, especially given Ehday’s ability to ramble - Ehday and Splendo only saw each other when hanging out at their chosen street corner hangout. Friends they were: by choice not chance.
Ehday always liked Blaine’s utter disrespect for rules – he broke commandments that are yet to be written, but Ehday’s lips are sealed - and Blaine Splender found Ehday’s lyrical embellished retellings of the stories of their lives inspirational. Ehday must have signed his first contract with the muse of storytelling early on, in grammar school. Because, you know, if Ehday’s telling it: we always win the fights, the games of night: in the Park with the kids from Frankford or Kensington or with the cops who’d busted our liquor store connection. We’d win in Ehday’s version of events, no matter the black eyes, the arrests, the groundings, the broken knuckles and arms, the alcoholic parents absent and/or abusive, we won and we always had each other’s backs, according to Ehday. Ehday is good at Hey, remember the day, we three swam across the Delaware so recklessly we almost drowned or other bigger than life iambic scripting of the adventures of our young lives. I guess, at the time, Ehday really believed he lived in a World of Can-do, in an America the Wonderful. After all: all A’s on a report card proves and guarantees something doesn’t it? Our educated brains and our belief in God and America will provide us with a great life. Just read the papers: America is wonderful, even if quietly at war.
Blaine and Ehday and any number of a dozen others hang out together when we have nothing better to do. There might be two of us; there could be ten of us. Just there. We’d hang out on a small stone wall that defined two sides of the lot of a large house at Hartel Street and Walker Avenue in Holmesburg, a block west of where my girlfriend – to misquote Bob Dylan – Hell’s her hometown, where Lucia lived. All of us there were young men and women aged fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, and we declared that wall ours, our hangout spot; and we not so jokingly referred to our collective selves as The Wall. The Mayor’s Task Force on Gangs labeled us The Wall Gang, as any and all groups of kids in the Sixties were tagged as gangs.
It is with Blaine, Ehday first ventures out of his most parochial hood to the hipster coffeehouses of in-town Philly. I think art was in both of our genetics, although at the time I’d have called myself Ein and Stein after my e-equals-m-c-square hero of an intellect Einstein; hell, Albert had the brains to inspire the biggest of bombs, yet, along with my other hero Bob Dylan, A.E. had the balls to be anti-war. And Blaine would be nicknamed Handsome and Hadsome, as, shall we say the looser girls just adored Blaine Splender. Spendo sang and played guitar and Ehday wrote poetry, but if truth be told, they were ignorant of the meaning of the word, artist, as both were mostly looking to love, to get laid, we hoped, forever.
And so, it is with Blaine Ehday first experiences the world of literature over espresso and chess at candle lit tables in the audience of leotard-ed singers. Hence: the answer to the question: Blaine is the first Bohemian in Ehday’s life.
If you grow up in Colorado, chances are you ski: for honor, for reputation, for fun.
If you grow up in Philadelphia neighborhood of Tacony, chances are, for fun, reputation and honor, you fistfight. No matter the odds, regardless of the inanity of the reason, how accidental or illogical the provocation. And try as one might Northeast Philly departees have a hard time forgetting the acculturation we endured fist and gang fighting as kids and teens, in preparation for what men, before and since, call war.
Even Splendo and Ehday fight once, over a goofball remark about Ehday’s girlfriend Lucia - Splendo referred to Lucia as a skank to spank – as everyone knew Lucia had a love thing going simultaneously with me and Jimmy Ryan from Bridesburg, and so Ehday has no choice but to call Blaine out -calling out, a Tacony invite to fistfight - Ehday’s calling out, retaliatory repartee beginning with B is for Bitch, Blaine, and that would be yours, Barbara and ending with the assertion to all who soon gathered in the alley where Ehday, Lucia, Barbara and Blaine had been making out just moments before that Barbara must be licking your zits. Look everybody. Splendo’s acne is improving, a challenge that Splendo has no choice but to answer. And without further ado the fists are flying with Ehday throwing the first couple rounds of punches to Splendo’s mid section, but with seemingly little effect. Kindly and with respect in his heart for Ehday, Blaine Splender, the crazy anarchistic guitarist and soon to be wounded Viet Nam veteran, is not assertive, honestly, he seems, reluctant to kick Ehday’s ass for, indeed, he could introduce Ehday to a universe of stars in eyes, if he so chose, given the lightning speed of his punches and the wiry weight-trained strength of his arms. Against Ehday, Splendo boxes only defensively, involved in the give and take of jabs and punches as if only practicing, affording Ehday the option of honorably conceding early in the fight – a god thanking moment - as all - especially Ehday - knew his Catholic Irish luck would not trump Splendo’s physical skills.
And, as is Tacony creed, we, the members of The Wall, for just cause, would fight anyone. No matter the odds. Christ, Blaine Splender even went toe to toe with another friend of mine Jerry Judge - who trained, turned professional as a heavy-weight, fought George Foreman, and inspired his friend and gym-mate Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. Hell, our Tacony creed was such, that if need be, one would take on the police or a teacher or a school principal or the father of a friend, (but those are other stories!).
In fact, here’s proof. One October Friday night at the egress of a Jerry Blavat sponsored teenage dance – Jerry Blavat’s radio moniker was The Geeter With the Heater, the Boss with the Hot Sauce - at the Concord Roller Rink on Frankford Avenue, Ehday - like an inspired puppet master - pranksters the entire15th Precinct Philadelphia Police Riot Squad, an action spiritual and artful, inspired by something, some muse, some thought from another world, a push from an unseen friend, some mind bigger and wiser, more comic and bold, than Ehday’s, his human heart and soul. Anyone’s guess would be as good as his to the name of the source: God the Father, Son or Holy Ghost, Satan, Mary the Mother of God, Kokopelli, Don’s: Juan or Quixote, Polymnia, the Peyote Princess, Machiavelli’s ghost, Buddha, Yahweh, Allah, etc etc etc).
What happens is this. Rumor has had it, a neighborhood rumor that travels a grapevine that includes the police, as many of Philly’s Finest, some of Ehday’s friend’s policeman fathers, made their homes in Tacony and Mayfair and Holmesburg - the world of Ehday - the rumor being that Tacony and Green Street were going to rumble (as a reputed to be gay guy, Danny DeDenato from Green Street, had danced with Angie diAngelo, a chick from Tacony (- oh my god, the shame and horror of it -) and dozens of overtime cops, riot and otherwise, are now ready to Clint Eastwood their day, if you know what I mean, should a rumbling of gangs occur.
Now Ehday is outside The Concord before the Boss with the Hot Sauce’s dance lets out as he and Splendo had earlier in the evening bussed, subway-ed and trolley-ed their way downtown for a hip-er bohemian start to their Friday night at the Gilded Cage, Philly’s renowned folk-scene coffeehouse, abandoning The Wall’s routine of drinking pilfered alcohol before attending the Concord Roller Rink dance. Earlier in the day Ehday by phone had arranged a ten-thirty rendezvous with the two-timing Lucia, about whose two-timing he cared little, just as long as he got to caress on occasion the beauty that was Lucia.
Now as Ehday stands mid-sidewalk waiting for the now twenty-minutes-late Lucia, he notices three things: first, the presence of dozens of cops - all riot geared up - on the west side of Frankford Avenue. Then he spies Benny Rivers, with a plaster cast in a sling hiding in the shadows of the alley to the north of the Concord before he sees Dedenato, Danny the Fag, as he was known, from Green Street, exiting the dancehall. Ehday can hear Jason Wade’s lyrics to “You Belong to Me,” the customary last dance of the Friday night soirée clearly as Danny opens the door to exit. See the pyramids along the Nile/Watch a sunset from a tropic isle. And then, out of the darker corners of a troubled mind comes the plaster-cast-ed arm of Rivers with rebar attached that lands a blindsided sucker punch of a whack, and Danny’s eye about pops out of its socket along with what seems a bucket of blood. But, as Ehday observes, Danny the Fag is no easy mark, no easy take-down despite River’s element of punkster surprise. After an evasive move, something survivalist yet dance-like - I mean Danny did dance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand as a more or less regular - he is that graceful and creative, Danny’s left Beatle boot finds its way up Rivers’ ass with Benny’s testicles and penis caught somewhere in the middle. And then it’s Danny on the attack, like a one-eyed Cyclops, knocking Rivers to the sidewalk with a left hook. Danny’s a big kid and his revenge on the injured Rivers seems righteous, proper, given what Ehday had observed. Hell yes, the victim here is Danny and he’s crushed his perpetrator from the shadows. There is justice in the world, Ehday observes.
But justice can be short lived, for as far as the police are concerned, a riot is occurring and here they come, charging in full gear across Frankford Avenue, a phalanx of blue uniforms and white faces. The first three to arrive on the scene ten feet from Ehday knock down, beat fiercely with batons, and handcuff Danny, the victim! A cop from Tacony helps - (father-son like?) - the instigator Benny to his feet and guides Rivers out of what will soon turn into a police riot as a sea of kids emerging from the dance crash against a buttress of police who are overtly mis-and-manhandling the teenagers now pouring out onto the sidewalk, as if all are guilty of what just went down between Rivers and Dedenato. A poorly conceived and even more poorly executed attempt is made to funnel - for purposes of crowd control - the now panic-ing teenagers towards the narrow alley aside the rink, pushing and shoving everyone, boys and girls, towards it, down a cement ramp, a slope slickered and slippery with blood from Danny’s injury. Some slip and slide and fall, trampled now by the confusion of everyone caught in the chaos of not understanding why all are being herded in the direction of the alley by baton swinging police.
Ehday can’t help but think that he is the only third party witness to see what actually just happened between Danny and Benny - how Rivers criminally and cowardly assaulted Danny with a crow-bar laden plaster cast; nonetheless, when Ehday attempts to speak with a policeman, a Sergeant of Some Sort, the officer of the law turns a deaf ear to Ehday’s assertion of Danny’s innocence and self-defense. Ehday’s pleading that Danny needs an ambulance, not a Paddy Wagon, given what had happened to his eye, is met with a bully’s smirk. And I suppose, maybe for the Fuck-you,-kid of it, Sergeant Pemberton then proceeds to attempt to arrest Ehday, an attempt that commences with the for-no-good-reason swing of Pemberton’s flashlight that Ehday is lucky and agile enough to avoid, catching a peripheral glimpse of the Ever-Ready encased aluminum baton, its shine reflecting the Roller Rink marquee lights above, ducking as if pushed by a ghost or a guardian angel. Only later does Ehday learn Splendo who’d been beside Ehday the whole time had pushed Ehday out of harm’s way. Somehow Ehday has forgotten all about Blaine Splender as Ehday’s focus has been on rendezvousing with Lucia - no matter her two-timing proclivities.
To his left after the light beam whizzes an arc-ed inch above his skull, just as Ehday rises back up to his full middling height of five feet eight inches of Irish might and myth, inspiration strikes. Baraka! And Ehday tips off, with almost other-worldly scripted Charlie Chaplin-esque impertinent impoliteness, Sergeant Pemberton’s fifty-dollar policeman’s hat. Pemberton forgets about Ehday and turns to look for his hat, one the Sarge would have to replace at his own expense if it were lost or ruined in the riot that is now going on. Ehday’s inspired comedic act of performance art is witnessed by Splendo and he adapts it as his own strategy for harassing the other rioting police, as you see, as I’ve said, the teens from Tacony, and Mayfair, and Holmesburg obey the commands of the cops as they would the commands of their parents: Not! So: it’s cops against kids now and hundreds of teenage girls are screaming. Ehday notes that he now understands the meaning and the shriek of the word banshee. And to Ehday it’s all so insane. Kids are getting whacked with nightsticks and flashlights, cops are facing off against crazy odds as five or six corner-mates would be pummeling a cornered cop. And so, as this story goes, through the rioting insanity Ehday and Splendo dance, not fleeing or fighting, but knocking off the hats of every encountered policeman - who always turn away from rioting to search for their precious hats, a Bohemian dance if ever there was one.
Just ask Ehday. He’ll tell you who won the riot!