So here we are seven weeks into Woody’s Words and Wit. I met up with three of my favorite people this weekend. I was invited to golf in an outing by the woman who hired me to Xerox Corporation in 1985. She, I and two other former / fellow employees teed it up at Silver Spring Country Club this past Sunday. Three of us are retired and one is closing in on his 28th year with the company. Together we represent about 115 years of service. That’s a boat load of copies. Even though we placed second last in the tourney, I’m sure we were way out in front with the laughs.
I couldn’t believe what was on TV this week. The Green Bay Packers played their annual family night inter-squad scrimmage. Yep, ready or not, here comes the football season. Great news for some, but not so good for others. It’s time to prepare for your favorite Sunday night shows being preempted by the game that runs long or into overtime. Oh well, thank God for DVRs.
Oh yea, something else football related is going to be back soon. Remember this guy?
Buffalo Bills running back; Hertz, running through the airport commercial; bad “Airport” movie actor; sports broadcaster; possible murderer, and convicted armed robber and kidnapper. 70 year old, Orenthal James (O.J) Simpson will be out on parole after serving 9 years of a 9 to 33-year sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. Keep a watchful eye on your daughters.
Yep you guessed it, football jokes:
A man takes his seat at the Super Bowl. He looks to his left and notices that there is a spare seat between him and the next guy.
The man: “Who would ever miss the Super bowl?”
The guy: “That was his wife’s seat. We have been to the last five Super Bowls together, but sadly she passed away.”
The man: “That’s terrible, but couldn’t you get another member of the family, friend, or someone else to come with you?”
The guy: “No…they are all at the funeral!”
A week before the Super Bowl there was an ad in a local newspaper which said:
“Local man offers marriage to any woman that has tickets to the Super Bowl. Those interested must send in photo of the tickets.”
I hope you’re enjoying Pinky’s Drive-In. This week’s chapter is one of my favorites. It’s also one of the longest. You will meet a new character, but not another one of the boys. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but, if you remember the sit-com Happy Days, just picture the Fonz. Although, this guy is the real deal.
“I still regret that whole damn thing to this day,” said Red. “I just wish we had caught up with them before they got into the car, although the hit and run was pretty sweet.”
“Forget it,” I said. “You stood up for it and that’s all that counts.”
Red offered to buy Weaser and I a round, but I stopped him as I pulled a dollar bill from my pile of cash on the bar.
“How about the three of us play Liars’ Poker for the round,” I said. “Loser keeps the dollars, but buys the drinks.”
“That works for me,” said Red, how about you Weas?”
“I’m in,” said Weaser.
Liars’ poker is played with dollar bills. Each player tries to make the best poker hand they can with the serial number on their bill. 1’s are aces, 0’s are tens and the rest of the digits are face value. Bluffing is a big part of the game. A player starts the game by declaring what he has in his hand, and the next player must beat his hand, and the next must top the second player’s hand, and so on.
The tricky part is that you don’t have to tell the truth. For example, you may have four sixes, but only declare three fives, to lure the next person to stay in the game. You also have the option of dropping out and throwing your dollar in the pot, or calling the player a liar.
If you say liar, the player who declared must show his hand, and it must be at least as large as he declared it was. If he is caught in a lie, he must pay everyone a dollar, but if he was not bluffing the player that called him a liar pays up.
The dollars are selected randomly, so, Ken exchanged each of our dollars with one from the cash register. I couldn’t believe my luck as I examined my bill. I had three 5’s and two 2’s, a full house. I could only be beaten by four of a kind, so I declared three 5’s to start. Weaser said three 7’s and Red declared three 10’s. Three 10’s is rare so I called Red a liar.
He started laughing as he said, “You should have taken my offer to buy, Woody”.
Red had four 2’s.
“Dammit! I never win at this stupid ass game. This ones on me boys,” I said as I proposed a toast.
“Here’s to you, here’s to me, I hope we never disagree, but if we do, the hell with you, so here’s to me!”
We downed our shots and had a good laugh at my prose.
Ken strolled on over to us and poured some more beers. We were all nice and loose by now, but our slightly dulled minds could still remember our past escapades clearly. When our glasses were full, Paulie let out a nostalgic sigh and began to snicker.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I said
Paulie raised his glass and uttered just two words, “To Lucky.”
Those two simple words caused a tidal wave of memories that overflowed my mind. Lucky Wytowski was a name from the summer of 1970. He showed up briefly by chance, stayed for a while and left us just as mysteriously.
We all chimed in. “To Lucky!”
“Remember his car? Asked Pat. “It was a black 63 Bonneville convertible with a 389, wasn’t it? Man, that thing could really haul ass! We had some great times, cruising with Lucky. I never could quite figure him out. I think he just got sick of running with a gang and wanted to take a break with us for a little while,” he said.
“That could be,” said Jeff.
“Do you remember the first time we saw him, added Shawn? “I still get an ache in my right forearm where he broke it with a tire iron!”
“That was some night, all right,” said Weaser.
We were playing poker at Pat’s place. It was late July in 1970. There were about twelve of us that night. The 3rd floor apartment was hot and sticky, so we had all the doors and windows open to get any cross breeze that came through. Pat’s house rule was that there were only five players allowed at a time at the table for regular poker. We played dealer’s choice, nickel, dime, quarter with no more than a quarter ante for most hands.
When someone called three card guts, the house rule was lifted and any number of players could get in to play. When we played guts, each player was dealt three cards with one card faced up. Each card would cost the price of the ante, usually fifty cents or a buck. This was a great way to raise the pot. A player would either buy a card or drop out in turn. The remaining players would show their hands and the winner took all.
Pat was on a roll that night, as usual. When it got to be about ten o’clock, most of the boys left to go back to Pinky’s or the bowling alley. Pat and I were the big winners and stayed behind to clean up.
“Not a bad haul,” said Pat as he counted out his winnings.
“You can say that again,” I responded.
“Let’s get outta this oven. I’m sweating like a pig,” he said.
While we had been cleaning up after the game, several of the boys were hanging out in front of Pinky’s. Time was passing way too slowly and they got bored, so they started to make obscene gestures at the passing traffic to see what kind of reactions they could stir up. When Weaser mooned two carloads of Popes trouble soon began. The Popes were a gang of hoods. Their turf was about a mile south of Pinky’s and from time to time, we would have a small confrontation, but we never really got into it with them before that night.
We didn’t consider ourselves to be a gang, and had no interest in street fighting. We just hung out together, played sports, drank beer and did whatever teenagers did in those days, but sometimes trouble just happens, and you must deal with it.
A black Bonneville convertible screeched to a halt and skidded into the curb a half block up, as did the midnight blue 327 Camaro that was right behind him. The driver of the Bonnie was, as we found out later, named Lucky. He and four other hoods jumped out of the cars and started yelling obscenities, and waved their arms as they approached Pinky’s.
It became a matter of fight or flight for the boys, so Ken quickly made the decision for everyone, as he started up the street toward the gang. Ted, Hardball, Paulie, Moose, Weaser, Jeff, and Shawn joined him, and they clashed with the Popes in front of a used car lot.
As usual, Ken threw the first punch, followed by a barrage of kicks aimed to impede his enemy of any procreation for the rest of his natural life. Jeff, Weaser, Hardball, Ted, Paulie and Moose engaged in hand-to-hand-to-boot-to-knee-to anything else they had with the other four thugs.
One of the Popes pushed Ted into the grill of a Chevy in the front row of the car lot. He was huge and was getting the best of Ted as he had him down, pounding on his back with his fists. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Shawn ran full speed past everyone with a tire iron and slammed it down on the goon that was on top of Ted. The big guy yelped as he arched his back and staggered back against the Chevy. Ted was able to get to his feet, and kicked the guy square in the nuts which put him out of commission for the rest of the brawl.
Lucky came up behind Shawn, so Shawn turned and swung the tire iron again but it slipped from his grasp and smashed into the windshield of Lucky’s Pontiac. Lucky picked up the weapon and swung at Shawn. Shawn raised his arm to shield his head as the tire iron caught him in the wrist. Shawn dropped to the ground and rolled over several times onto the sidewalk and slid under a car in the car lot!
Meanwhile, Pat and I were about half a block away when we heard the breaking glass and yelling. We cut through the car lot and onto Western Avenue. When we arrived, we found Arnie squared off with some muscular goon wearing a wife-beater. Arnie was dodging and jabbing like Ali. He was skinny, but had fast hands. The goon’s eyes were red and his nose was bleeding. He turned and ran when he realized that Pat and I were with Arnie.
Shawn was now sitting on the curb, holding his right arm while Weaser, Ken, Moose, Paulie, Pat and I started chasing the Popes down the street. They made it to the Camaro and squealed off just as we were about to catch up to them. There was still one of them left, standing by his car, holding a tire iron. He was out numbered ten to one. Lucky turned to watch his gang flee down the street, then turned back to see that he was surrounded.
Moose bellowed, “It’s over, asshole. Drop the tire iron!”
At 6’9”, Moose was an over powering figure. The hood put the iron to his side, but didn’t let go of it.
“Who’s gonna pay for my windshield?” Lucky shouted.
“Who’s gonna pay for my broken arm?” yelled Shawn as he winced in pain.
Just then, Weaser yelled, “The cops are coming, let’s get the outta here!”
Lucky jumped into his car and sped off without another word. It was quite clear that the last person he wanted to see was one of Chicago’s finest. We all took off running down the alley and into the neighborhood. I helped Shawn across the street to the back entrance of the bowling alley and out the side door into the dimly lit parking lot. We squatted behind some cars and hid for about ten minutes. When the squad car pulled up to the scene of the fight, all the entire officer found was some broken glass, and a 75-foot-long skid mark, left from a posi-traction ’63 Pontiac Bonneville left by Lucky.
Jeff pulled into the parking lot to find Shawn and me sitting on the trunk of a 65 caddy, trying to make a sling out of his T-shirt.
“Damn, that hurts!” Shawn squealed.
“I think we better go over to Martha Washington Hospital and have that looked at,” said Jeff.
“Okay, let’s go,” I agreed.
Jeff and I sat in the waiting room as the doctor set Shawn’s arm. I called Shawn’s mom and she showed up in about five minutes, as she lived just across the street from the hospital. She was quite upset when she arrived in the waiting room.
“Where is he?” she said to me. “Is he alright?” “What the happened?”
I pointed down the hall to the ER.
“He’s through those doors getting his arm set. It got broken when he was hit with a tire iron, when we got jumped by a gang!” I said quickly.
“I think he’ll be okay.”
Mrs. Kelly rushed past the nurses’ station and pushed through the ER doors. She found Shawn in the second treatment room. The doctor had Shawn’s forearm attached to a vertical stand, on a table, as he applied layers of plaster to form a cast. There wasn’t enough room for Mrs. Kelly to hug Shawn, so she rubbed his back as the doctor kept adding plaster to the cast, and she started to calm down when he assured her that Shawn’s fractured wrist would be completely healed in about six weeks.
When the doctor released Shawn, Jeff drove us back to Mrs. Kelly’s house where we laid out the entire story for her, of course, leaving out the part about Weaser’s mooning. She seemed to understand that we were just defending ourselves, and let it go as dealing with life in the big city.
The day after our “gang fight” was a Saturday. Saturday afternoons were usually reserved for working on cars, playing softball or just hanging out at Pinky’s or the bowling alley. This Saturday was going pretty much the norm until about 2:00.
There were about six of us standing around in front of Waveland Bowl, rehashing the previous night’s activities. As we were bantering back and forth and playing out the scene over and over, I saw Shawn’s jaw drop nearly to the ground.
“What is he doing here?” Shawn said as he gestured toward the parking lot.
We all looked in the same direction with complete disbelief as Lucky came strolling up to us as though he belonged there. Before we could get our composure, he walked right up to Shawn, looked him up and down and pointed to his casted right arm.
“Does that hurt?” he said.
“Not anymore, asshole,” responded Shawn.
Lucky once more found himself completely out numbered and surrounded by Pinky’s boys. Moose was the next to speak.
“What the hell are you doing here? Didn’t you have enough last night?”
“Relax, big guy,” said Lucky, “I just want to get my windshield paid for.”
Lucky stood only about 5’7”. He had wavy black hair that he wore Elvis style. His dago-tee revealed Lucky, tattooed on his right shoulder just above a TJ. I had seen the scripted TJ tagged on buildings before, but was not sure what it stood for. He was well-built, but dwarfed when stacked against Moose’s massive frame. He showed absolutely no fear when he was confronted.
“Where’s the rest of your gang?” said Shawn
“What gang,” replied Lucky? “I don’t run with no gang. Those other guys from last night don’t like getting mooned either. Just like me!”
Shawn busted out laughing. “I guess you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said with a chuckle.
“And there ain’t no way I’m paying for your windshield.”
“How about your insurance, won’t that pay for it?” said Shawn.
“I don’t believe in insurance,” said Lucky.
“That’s too bad because I don’t have any either,” said Shawn.
“I guess that’s that, me with a broken windshield and you with a broken arm. Ain’t life a bitch?” Lucky said laughing.
“It sure is,” said Shawn.
Lucky looked down at his watch. “I gotta go to work. You guys gonna be here tonight?” he asked.
“Yeah, we’ll be here,” said Jeff.
“Maybe I’ll see ya later,” said Lucky.
He hopped into his Bonnie with the brand-new windshield and took off down the avenue. We thought that was the last we would ever see of him. Most of the Pinky’s boys had known each other for years. It wasn’t easy for an outsider to be allowed in.
The Eagles Club
That evening, there was a dance at the local Eagles club. Most of the boys went except for a few of us. Pat, Shawn, Paulie and I decided to hang out at the bowling alley and see if we could get served in the Bowling Alley Lounge. We didn’t feel like going to the dance, and the Cubs were on TV, so we just wanted to hang and watch the game for a while. Jose, the bartender, was cool, and would serve us if the manager was gone.
The manager of Waveland Bowl hated the Pinky’s boys. He thought we were bad for business. We weren’t allowed in or on the premises unless we were bowling, so we would do things to piss him off like stealing the rain mats from the lobby or putting cherry bombs down the toilets to flood the bathroom. We soaped the windows of his car so many times that he bought an old ‘49 Buick, but that didn’t stop us. When we found out about it, we greased the running boards so he would slip getting into the car. We saw it as harmless pranks, but he sure didn’t share our sense of humor.
We were just about to walk into the lounge when Jose gave us the high sign. The manager was just coming on duty. That really sucked because Arnie was at the dance so we were stuck without beer on a Saturday night. Pat suggested trying to find the bum at Paul Revere, but we hadn’t tried that for weeks and didn’t know if he was around anymore. We were just about to give up and go to the dance when we heard a vaguely familiar voice from behind us.
“How’s the arm doin?” It was Lucky. “I told you guys I’d be back.” he said.
Lucky was dressed in the traditional greaser summer garb (dago-tee, baggie grays, combat boots and suspenders). He pulled a pack of Camel Straights out of his pocket, offered one to each of us, and lit us up with his chrome zippo lighter. He had a cocky demeanor about him that seemed to say, “Here I am. Don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you.” The slight bounce in his step seemed more like a strut, like the way John Travolta showed his stuff in “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever”.
Lucky was the real deal. You could tell right off the bat that he was street savvy. He seemed to be a little older and more experienced than most of the current Pinky’s boys. I felt that he would fit in better with the older guys in the Cameo Club than with us. At 22 years old, Lucky had 2 to 3 years on most of us. This, of course, we viewed as a great advantage. You guessed it. A new beer guy! As long as we had Lucky we didn’t have to wait for Arnie to show up at his leisure or look for the bum to score a couple quarts of Meister Brau. Oh yeah. We also now had another means of cruisin’.
“The arm’s fine,” said Shawn. “How’s that new windshield working out?”
Lucky laughed slightly as he held both arms in the air, looked to the sky and said, “Great, just great. It’s nice that I work in a body shop. I could install it myself and save a bundle. Let’s call a truce on that, okay?”
“Okay,” replied Shawn.
“Don’t you run with the Popes?” I asked.
“No man, like I said before, I don’t run with no gang. I do what I want, when I want, with who I want.” Lucky became quite animated and seemed a little agitated with my query.
“So why did you come by tonight?” asked Pat?
“I dunno. I’ve heard of Pinky’s and thought I’d check it out. Let’s just say I’m a curious, Mo’ fuck, and leave it at that, Okay?”
“Okay, Okay,” said Pat.
Paulie was getting A little antsy just standing around. Linda was off on vacation with her parents and he was looking for a little action.
“So, you guys wanna go over to the dance and check out the chicks or stand here all night scratching your balls?” he said, bobbing his head back and forth and holding his hands up for recognition. “We got no beer and Arnie’s at the dance. So, what are we gonna do?”
“You guys got a ride?” asked Lucky.
“No, man, Jeff’s got the only short and he’s at the dance with his broad tonight,” Paulie said.
” Hop in. I’ll drive,” said Lucky.
Things were looking up. Pat rode shotgun as Shawn, Paulie and I got in the back seat. Lucky’s car was perfect for cruisin’. It was jet black and held a wax job like high polished onyx. The interior was black leather with bucket seats and four on the floor. The night was hot and sticky, but we got a cool breeze with the top down.
“You guys want to stop for some beer?” said Lucky.
“Let’s go to the dance for a while first, and then get some brewskies later.” I said.
“Okay, man, the dance it is.” said Lucky
As we pulled up to the Eagles Club, Lucky gave it a couple of high revs and shut down. We hopped out as he put the top up. The dance was going strong. There were two bands battling it out. The Symphonics were Pinky’s Boys and the opposing band; the Legends were from a rival hang out called Shines.
We strolled into the hall and stood shoulder to shoulder just inside the door. As our eyes perused the hall we immediately made mental notes as to how many Pinky’s boys were there and where they were situated. It looked good. We had the numbers and everything seemed cool. The Symphonics were rocking out to their version of “Twist and Shout” and there were plenty of chicks to go around.
The “Battle of the Bands” was a contest sponsored by a local radio station. There were twelve bands competing over a six-week period for a grand prize of $500.00. The stage was divided into two sections. Each band took turns playing the same songs and, when it was all over, a panel of DJ’s would vote for their favorite. This was the night of the finals and of course, we were all rooting for the Symphonics to win.
I led the way around the exterior of the dance floor with Shawn, Pat, Paulie and Lucky following loosely behind. The initial walk around was a ritual. The way you looked set the tone for the rest of the night. If you wanted to be cool, you would stroll slowly, nodding your head and making slight hand gestures as you acknowledged those that you knew. Pinky’s Boys always stuck together.
“Twist and Shout” was the last number of the night and the judges were huddled on stage, discussing who would win the grand prize. About15 of us assembled stage right. Jeff, Weaser, Spoolie, Ski and Moose jumped onto a table to sway the judging. Jeff started to lead the chant.
“Pinky’s! Pinky’s! Pinky’s! Pinky’s!”
We all started to join in until all that wanted the Symphonics to win were yelling out in unison! As the chant got louder, we raised our hands and bounced up and down with each refrain! The decibel level raised more and more as the bouncing up and down turned into foot stomping and jumping! With each jump, the table would bow more and more until it finally gave way.
The front legs buckled, forcing the five on the table to topple into the crowd. The fall wouldn’t have been too bad if Moose hadn’t decided to lunge forward in an attempt to break his fall on the assembly below. Pat, Paulie, Shawn and I were standing right in the line of fire and would have been crushed if we hadn’t quickly backed out of the way.
If you were to view the incident in slow motion, it would have looked like a carefully orchestrated movement. As Moose came flailing forward, Paulie and I sidestepped left as if we were taking instructions from a stage director crouching in the orchestra pit. Pat and Shawn made a similar move to the right. It was truly a thing of beauty. The only problem was that our left-right movement parted a lane for Moose to fall uncushioned onto Lucky who obviously missed rehearsal.
The lunge left Moose lying face down, spread-eagle on the floor. But there was no sign of Lucky. He was buried! Maybe dead, we thought. All at once visions, of sheer terror went through our minds. How would we get back to Pinky’s and who’s going to buy the beer? We had to raise Moose immediately and hopefully revive what was left of Lucky.
“Get the hell off of me,” groaned Lucky.
He was flat on his back under Moose as if to be in a deadly embrace with a behemoth. Moose lifted himself up into a push-up position looked Lucky in the eyes and said,
“You again, how ya doin’, Lucky?”
Moose rolled over as Lucky sprang to his feet. He ever so smoothly pulled his comb out of his rear pocket and ran it through his do. None of us knew what to expect. We really didn’t know Lucky and didn’t know what he would do.
Moose sheepishly held out his hand and said, “Sorry, man, you okay?”
“No sweat, big guy,” Lucky responded. “We’re cool.”
The rest of the fallen few were back on their feet and laughing their butts off, as well as everyone else in the general vicinity.
The laughter subsided as a drum roll and cymbal smash were heard. It was time to announce the winner. The Symphonics and the Legends were assembled on either side of the DJ.
“May I have your attention please? I’d like to thank the proprietor of the Eagle’s Club for the use of their facilities, and for their hospitality over the past six weeks. I‘d also like to extend my thanks to all the great bands that have participated in this year’s Battle of the Bands. And all of us at WLS Radio would especially like to thank all you crazies in the audience.”
With that, the crowd let out a series of yelps, whistles and hurrahs.
“The judges have reached a decision and have declared a winner of the competition,” the DJ continued.
“Get on with it, you jerkoff!” yelled Spoolie. “Who won?”
The DJ finally made the announcement, “The winners and recipients of the $500 grand prize are the Symphonics!”
With that, the hall went wild with a mixture of cheers, boos whistles and jeers. The Shines contingent were holding their thumbs down, shouting, “Fix! Fix! Fix!” but to no avail. All votes were in and the Legends were runners-up to the group from Pinky’s.
The rivalry between Shines and Pinky’s had deep roots. The name Shines was a shortened name for Sunshine’s Drugstore and Fountain. It existed on Irving Park Road across from St. Benedict’s Catholic Church since the early fifties. Many of the Pinky’s Boys attended St. Ben’s grammar and high school, and were ex-schoolmates of the group from Shines.
The real competition between the two hangouts revolved around sports. Once a year, we put a tackle football game together, and played basketball and softball in the schoolyards. Many of us had even been teammates when we were members of the Boys Club.
Pinky’s however, built a reputation of being a motorcycle gang during the 50’s, because it was adjacent to the Cameo Club, which spawned many versions of Marlon Brando as the “Wild One.” When you hung at Pinky’s, you were automatically tagged as a hood with an attitude whether you liked or not, and who were we to ruin a perfectly good reputation?
The crowd started to calm down as Ken jumped onto the stage and got a hold of the microphone. He wasn’t about to let the Shines chant go uncontested, as he waved the mike in front of the speaker, causing a shrill squeal.
“Listen up, boys and girls!” he shouted. “It’s time to leave. The judges have spoken and the Symphonics are the kings. There’s just one thing I’d like to leave you losers from Shines with before you depart.”
With that Ken beckoned to all the Pinky’s Boys to assemble on the stage. When we were all gathered, Ken began that awful refrain, and of course we all joined in.
“We are Pinky’s raiders; we’re raiders of the night….” You know the rest.
We shouted at the top of our lungs over and over until all the Shines boys left the premises. This was great, except for the fact that the reason we went to the dance was to pick up chicks. They obviously weren’t impressed, for they also exited the building. That’s just another reason why there weren’t many Pinky’s Girls.
As we left the Eagles Club, the five of us got back into Lucky’s car and sped off down the avenue. Lucky took a right turn at Western and pulled up in front of the Cullum Club.
“Who’s got some money for beer?” said Lucky.
A few of us had part time jobs and Saturday was payday so we were all holding pretty well. We got two quarts apiece and continued to cruise on down.
“Where to,” Lucky asked abruptly?
“Hey, man, you’re driving,” I said. “Pick a direction. How about down by the lake or back to the park? Where do you usually go on a Saturday night?”
Like most big cities, Chicago was made up of just about every ethnic group made to man. There was Chinatown, Germantown, Jew Town, Uptown, A.K.A. Hillbilly Heaven, Greek Town, and for obvious reasons, we called the entire south side of the city the dark side.
There were dozens more cultural pockets throughout the city, and each neighborhood had its own personality. They were unique, from the restaurants to the style of houses to the type of shops. You could walk for five miles straight down Western Avenue and feel as if you passed through Southern Europe, Mexico, and the Middle East. To this day, there are more Poles in Chicago than in Warsaw, Poland. You could eat everything from glumki to a knish to moo-goo gaipan or hot tamales with refried beans.
Each neighborhood also had pride in their heritage. Among the teens of those areas, pride was often confused with the right to draw lines in the sand and protect their turf from interlopers. The street gangs of Chicago were notorious for causing mayhem during that period. Young men were getting drafted into the Armed Forces every day to support the Viet Nam War. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t continue their education were just waiting around for their greetings letter to arrive from the Selective Service. It was as if they felt helpless in a society that was trying to take them down.
Lucky decided to take a drive to his old neighborhood. The area just southwest of downtown, around Ashland and Taylor streets, was known as Little Italy. It was full of corner grocery stores, authentic Italian eateries and open markets where you could purchase all the fresh spices, vegetables and meats to create the ultimate Italian Sunday fiesta. During the day, the neighborhood was teeming with Italian Grandmas sitting on the stoop, small pisonos playing in the streets and Bella Senoras, flaunting their shapely figures. At night, however, it was occupied by one of the most feared street gangs of that era.
Lucky told us that as a teen he was a member of the Taylor Street Jousters. The Jousters were well known throughout the city as an extension of the Italian mob. We had all heard of the Jousters, and to us, they were legendary, known only from tales about gang fights and mayhem, told to us by some of the older guys in the Cameo Club. No one would dare enter the Jousters’ turf after dark; unless of course you were Lucky Wytowski with a carload of beered up Pinky’s Boys. God we were stupid!
As we drove through the streets, past the front porches, alleys, and corner taverns we all stayed acutely alert. Suddenly, Lucky stopped the car about halfway down a dimly lit tree lined street and pointed to a red brick sixteen-unit apartment building.
“That’s where I was born,” he said. “My father was a Polack and my mom was a wop. That’s how I got stuck with this stupid ass last name. No one believed that I was half-Italian so the Jousters tagged me with Lucky, because I’d be lucky to live past the age of fifteen with a name like Wytowski!” He laughed out loud as he pulled away.
Lucky made a left at the next corner where we came upon a small park. It only covered about two square city blocks, and was lined heavily with huge oak trees, and had a pathway that was lighted with old style street lamps. The area looked quaint and friendly, almost like a scene from a black and white movie from the 40’s. We could see that there were several baseball diamonds, a basketball court, and an area for children with a wading pool and sprinkler. I remember thinking how nice it must be on a warm Sunday afternoon with all the neighborhood families getting together for picnics, or just taking a stroll, so I asked Lucky about it.
“Hey, Lucky, did you ever hang out or play ball in this park?” I asked.
“Sure, man, all the time, when I was a kid, this was the gangs” headquarters,” he answered, waving his right hand around over his head.
“You mean like we hang at Paul Revere or the schoolyard, right?” I asked.
“Ya, like that,” said Lucky. “We’d suck down some beers and solve the world problems, just like you guys do, except we were more organized.”
“What do you mean by organized?” I asked.
Lucky explained how it all worked with an organized street gang. The Jousters had history with a lineage, kind of like how the Pinky’s Boys would graduate to the Cameo Club when they turned 21. The major difference was that they were well known throughout the city and challenged by opposing gangs. They had to protect their turf. He told us how his father explained it to him. He was told that in the old days, ‘30’s, ‘40’s and even into the 1950’s they would have all out rumbles with the Irish micks, Polacks and Mexicans from other neighborhoods. The fights usually started because someone from a rival gang was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got jumped. That would cause that gang to retaliate. It was almost like the military. They actually had a chain of command.
The gang leaders would meet with the opposition and pick a time and place for the rumble. They would even decide on what weapons would be allowed. Guns were never allowed, but bats, chains and even knives were fair game. If you think this sounds a little like a scene from West Side Story, you’re right, but without any singing or dancing of course. That’s the way it really went down, according to Lucky.
“Were you ever in a gang fight?” I asked.
“Ya, jerkoff, don’t you remember how we all met?” He laughed.
“But that was just a few guys going at it, I mean a real organized rumble,” I asked.
This seemed to hit a nerve with Lucky. He seemed a little annoyed with my question.
“Why don’t we just drop it for now, Woody, okay?” he retorted with a bit of sternness in his voice.
“Okay man, whatever you say. I’m cool with it,” I said.
The last thing I wanted to do was piss him off while cruising around in his car in his own turf, so I dropped it completely.
We paused for a stop sign at the cross street that bordered the park. There was a black El Camino also stopped at the intersection to our right. Lucky waved him to proceed, but he only went a few yards and stopped. He was blocking us from going through the intersection. This couldn’t be good!
“What the hell?” said Pat, “Do you know this guy, Lucky?”
“No, man, just stay cool,” said Lucky.
We didn’t even hear another car pull up behind us. It was a Ford Fairlane with its headlights turned off. Then another car that was parked across the intersection facing us turned on its high beams and blinded us. Before we knew what was happening, about ten thugs exited the park and surrounded Lucky’s car. The three cars also emptied with about a dozen more. The situation got real bad, real fast.
Shawn, Pat, Paulie and I started to get out of the car.
“Don’t move!” said Lucky quickly. “I’ll handle it!”
Lucky lit up a smoke, held up his right hand, and made a motion that seemed rather odd to me. He made a fist, opened his hand to show his palm, and then made a fist again. The driver’s side door of the El Camino opened, and a huge musclebound goon jumped out, holding a baseball bat.
“Hey, Vinnie, how you doin’?” shouted Lucky.
“I’m good, Luck. How you doin’? Are these the guys you told me about?” he asked.
“Ya, I told you I might be by with some strange dudes, didn’t I?” answered Lucky as he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
“They sure do look strange!” said Vinnie.
This caused a mocking laughter from the gang.
We Pinky’s Boys didn’t know what to think. Was Lucky setting us up all the time? We didn’t know whether to fight, run, or just start to say our last prayers, so we kind of chuckled as if not to show that we were really terrified.
“These guys are okay, there with me,” Lucky finally said. “They’re from the north side; I was just showing them how the other half lives. I got me two micks a polack and another wop in here. They don’t belong to no gang. We’re just cruisin’ around, having a few brews,” said Lucky as he handed his beer to Vinnie.
“If I knew you were bringing the United Nations, I would have worn my dress T and shined my boots,” laughed Vinnie. “Stay cool, Luck, Salud,” he said as he finished off the quart.
“Ya Vinnie, Salud,” answered Lucky.
The El Camino proceeded through the intersection and the rest of the Jousters let us drive through. Lucky rolled quietly for about a block, then punched it into second gear, and sped off, out of Little Italy. We were all relieved to leave Taylor Street, but felt pretty cool, knowing that we survived the tour.
I asked Lucky about his tattoo, because I also noticed the same mark on Vinnie’s shoulder.
“Hey, Lucky, what’s the TJ tat for on your shoulder, I saw the same thing on Vinnie?” I said.
“What do ya think, Woody?” said Lucky. “I told you I used to run with the Jousters, the TJ is for Taylor Street Jousters. They used to be called the Dukes, but I joined when they combined with and Gaylords, and changed the name.”
This seemed extremely cool to we Pinky’s Boys. The Dukes, Gaylords, Jousters and other gangs were kind of romanticized in our minds. I knew now, that they were very real. I mean, in my face real!
We were feeling loose as we cruised on back to our neighborhood. The beer mellowed us out, so we started singing to the radio. Each of us took turns singing lead and backups. When “I’ll see you in September” came on, it was Lucky’s turn. He actually sounded pretty good, as he gracefully waved his arms and pointed appropriately at each of us to come in with, “Bye, baby, goodbye… so-long farewell… bye, baby, goodbye…” When the song ended, he turned the radio off, and we did the whole song a cappela. We must have gone on for a half-hour before we got it right.
We learned something about Lucky that night. He was all right. It was hard to believe that just 24 hours ago, we were caught up in a pugilistic encounter with our newly found friend. We headed back to the bowling alley, where Lucky dropped us off. We all pitched in a buck for gas, and climbed out. Lucky waved his arm over his head as he peeled out, and laid a patch of rubber on the pavement. It was late, so we all took off for home and assured each other that we would keep that singing thing under our hats.
The “Lucky” era lasted just that summer. He came by from time to time on a Friday or Saturday night, hung out with the boys, drank some beer and did whatever. By the time winter rolled around, he quit showing up all together. No one knew where he lived or how to get a hold of him, so we just assumed he moved on to bigger and better things.
Whatever happened to Mr. Lucky Wytowski, he will always be remembered as an interim Pinky’s Boy that helped make the summer of 1970 a little more interesting.