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Requiem for a Gang – Part II (Donkeyland, the Cayuga Street Gang, of the 50s and 60s)
It was gone, the era passed, but it didn’t pass without old lady Stanley, who lived next door to the Old Russian’s house witnessing it all, or almost all of it, the era, the generation. So old was she, it was hard for her to open the heavy door leading out onto her patio, when that generation nearly ended, and she nearly ended with it, and she was betrayed into believing those kids she saw grow up, six and seven and ten and now fifteen and twenty, would turn into something more rational, but it didn’t happen-not then anyhow, and it didn’t take anyone else long either to see it was not going to happen, anytime soon. Watching the kids at a dead run, start running and reappearing wherever, from the police, usually running to the top of Indian’s Hill, from the patio front screened in porch to the kitchen window in the back of her house, she saw it all, all the dead running, and dead stopping. Engulfed in her house, watching Mouse, one of the Lund boys, and Gunner racing up and down Cayuga Street, in their 1940, Fords, as if it was a racetrack. A fragile wisp of a woman, ageless, thinned haired, who looked too frail even to approach them, let alone scold them, yet she did now and then, and not only them but their parents when she got annoyed, and the kids jeering at her with their Rock and Roll, Elvis songs, and proceeded to do whatever they were doing, a contempt for possible despoilers, and Larry punching out the cops on top of Indian’s Hill, and that was not all. It was not even an ultimatum, it was a decree in the neighborhood, and the only safe persons that didn’t belong in the neighborhood who were safe, were: the mail carriers, the milkman, the bread peddlers, and one black man whom nobody knew where he lived but walked down Mississippi Street, and met the Old Russian, whom would walk with him up Cayuga Street, and because the old Russian’s grandchildren were gang members, the old Russian was safe, and because the old Russian was safe so was the black man, and of course Mrs. Stanley whose husband died in 1959, worked for the railroad for 40-years, died at 66, missed nothing. Like a weightless pigeon, or fossil of a bird, not a vulture or pigeon, put a sparrow, a hawk-sparrow if there is such a thing; that was the only reason the Blackman was allowed to walk up the street without hindrance. It was an Irish, Polish, Russian, German, Anglo-Saxon neighborhood, cut out of fleeing madmen from the 1920s. And so the black man quietly removed himself halfway up Cayuga street, from the entire house to house fenced in roadside… to who knows where! Nor did they look for him: what for? He was with the Old Russian, and the Old Russian had two grandchildren, and a few of the gang members asked the grandchildren “Who the heck is that nigger?” and without any real clue, kind of a sheepish rage, “Who cares! He’s a friend of my grandfathers… !” It wasn’t really a question, but a statement. Well that made it alright too. Wild men, have wild timeless tempers, and they all looked the other way on that homeless black man, who had a home but no one knew where, cared, nor were interested all that much, where he came from, and went to.
And there were the girls, All right, damn it, we almost forgot them, but they belonged to the gang, also. They never realized its seriousness, and married one another, because who else would they marry? Everyone knew one another, and thought perhaps humorous, and most everyone went to Washington High School, a few to other schools nearby but that was the primary one, and that was on Rice Street, on the other side of the Cemetery, Oakland Cemetery, where the Cayuga Street thugs, in the hot summers jumped over the iron fence for a ghostly and go-getting party with the spirits, both alcohol and whomever:
“Yes-I’ll marry you, and quick too, before the price goes up!” was not far-off of the answer to the proposals of marriage in the neighborhood.
It was like the men blew on their foghorn and the women came: wore a cord around their necks that said: Sandy belongs to Roger, and Nancy belongs to Sammy, and Jackie, well she had a few she belonged to and Carol belong to Rockwater, and the other Carol belonged to Mike, and Mouse belong to Jackie, but not sure if it was the other way around, and Jennie belonged to Larry, and Chick belonged to nobody but everybody. And everyone knew there was no limit to the fantastic rotation this group of girls and guys could take, a bizarre twist at any corner of any night.
Nor did they rest in the afternoons, or the next day, they’d play cards at Hino’s house, drink all day, and Nancy would make her soup and half a dozen guys would eat, and a dozen children between the two would eat, and Jerry would fall to sleep, take a two-hour siesta, and kick out the guys, and they’d return when Jerry woke up, and everyone would look at everyone else for “Who’ll pay for the next drunk?” It would be just like that, day after day, month after month, and it got to be into the years. That meant, Big Ace would probably pay one dollar, and Jerry Hino ten-dollars, and if Doug was there, he’d have a half pint in his pocket and offer that up as his sacrifice, and Chick would bring in a twelve pack of Hamm’s beer, and play the guitar, some of Rick Nelson’s songs and Elvis’ songs and Johnny Cash’s songs. And who didn’t put into the kitty, would be debtors for next week’s drunk. And if there was no room in the Hino house, they’d go to the two corner bars, the home away from home, and the cradle to the grave, den.
And then a train load of whiskey would come in, and it would have federal seals on the doors, but it never even mattered at what price they entered that caboose, they’d break it open, and carry the boxes the distance it took-some pretty heavy, in the middle of the night through rain snow or slush, and nobody would ever notice it and get fossilized that night with it; they had indestructible bodies back then; matter of fact, once they saw the signs on the cars they didn’t even have to discuss it, it was like candy, and since they wanted nothing else out of life, least of all, sobriety, they went for it like a worm on a hook. No one was the official leader of these so called raids, but whoever was the thirstiest would seemingly be the most tuned into where the boxcar was, he was the ordained chief for the night.
And of course old lady Stanley saw it all (of cause she did), and what she didn’t see, wasn’t hard to imagine. On the other side of her house was another family of kids who belonged to the neighborhood, one imprisoned at St. Cloud. And across the street was the old German, who had two sons, Roger and Ronnie-Ronnie and Chick often went girl hunting in Ronnie’s 1960-Chevy, black as midnight, on White Bear Avenue-and a daughter. And she saw it all, Mrs. Stanley saw all the going and coming, she was kind of in the center of things. And she lived to be ninety-three, born at the birth of the 20th Century. She seemed to be invisible at times but never flimsy in her eagle eyeing of what was going on. Frail and child-size, she fed her squirrels and birds and tended to her garden, like her husband did. And watched the defacement of the Street, its generation, pass as if an act of Congress said, leave them be, they’re not worth the trouble. Jail them all or draft them all-more or less! Yes, that’s exactly how it was too.
No. Not a confession, or even for them confusion, rather a way of life, it was simply a way of life, how it was established, or came about who’s to say. And perhaps a hell of a difference, And Chick said one day, “What am I hanging around for?” Thinking all the time he was supposed to have left long ago. “You aint got anything to hang around here for, do Yaw? Go on to San Francisco!” And he did. He wasn’t even speaking to anyone about it, he just up and did it, kind of. In essence, He said: the hell with the Act of Congress, and unauthorized himself to be removed, willful removed from the misuse of this neighborhood called Donkeyland. Then he was gone. They all thought he’d come back, but he knew better, if he did he’d just have to go again. And I suppose they all knew that too. They realize now that they had no possible means to discover what perhaps his brother, Gunner, was in his thinking back then, but he was like a strong and tireless horse, complete, and dared not come back for too long.
· · ·
The empty lot in the summers, -the weeds and grass got as tall as tall cornstalks; old man Brandt, who lived alongside the empty lot, cut some of the grass and weeds down and got a few of the boys to do the rest, and thus, the gang had a place to play ball, as if for once without alcohol, it was one adjoined breath within the gang, and for a number of summers it was somewhat kept up. It wasn’t until they finished the game, did they start the drinking. Perhaps it was the catalyst, and sometimes everyone played the game fast to get it down with quickly, not to finish it but to get it out of the way knowing there was a keg of beer nearby-yes, get the game behind them, and so they’d obliterate the game somehow-sabotage it, as if they had also known in that first hour, at the first hour’s end, or near its end, it would be enough, and they all knew this from the beginning. That empty lot, or field whatever you want to call it which was really about four acres square, which 50-years later will have vanished, leaving nothing but a parking space for cars, although there were seldom any cars to be seen in that dark asphalt, parking lot, had changed to a park, but there were no kids on Cayuga Street anymore, when that happened, in the 1980s, and then it changed again in the 1990s, and at the turn of the new century, it completely faded away to legend, short-lived, from the 70s onward. Had you asked the gang, or what is left of the gang, today: back in the 50s and 60s, this was unforeseen; even Indian’s Hill, and with its woods was turned into inevitable dust, who could have ever prophase that? A whole hill demolished, trees and all. Where is it? Where did they put it? Pointless to point it out to the 21st Century, teenager, from over on Buffalo Street, or Granite Street, or Acker Street, all streets surrounding Cayuga Street, it isn’t any place to be seen-
· · ·
But on top of that hill, Indian’s Hill, back in those far-off years, the decades of the 50s and 60s, and early 70s, is where the devil sat, pondering, deliberating, and told his cohorts, ‘Kill the body, and the head will die,’ and they all believed him and he himself believed himself because it had always worked, it was taken for granted, why would it be any other way, but everyone in Donkeyland, kept on drinking with dead-bodies, -this neighborhood was different, and to the surprise of old Nick-the neighborhood laughed back at him, saying: “Wrong again!” Although it didn’t bother him any, his reputation preceded him. The more I think about it, the gang knew one of the devil’s tricks-unconsciously that is-boredom, which is really an affliction, and accounts for many disorders and the gang was never bored. This of course was an irrecoverable loss for old Satyr! Pride comes before destruction, and accordingly, he lost a few admirers on this motif, of having his followers always thinking he’s right. But he won I suppose with flattery and even detestation, that cripples the mind just as well, and so, in capturing a few members for life, to sell their souls, Et cetera… he who lives in the eternal afternoon, left Cayuga Street; no longer inspired, no longer aroused by glimpses into its future because he perchance knew it had no future, energetically ablaze with the work he and his imps, his cohorts, his henchmen, had already done, creating a horde of alcoholics at such young ages, and having half the neighborhood incarcerated at one time or another, now smoking dope, and selling drugs, providing all the forms of human obsession he could think of, this was his legacy for Donkeyland…
First Person Narration
Donkeyland, the Cayuga Street Gang
The side-road appeared, it was just there, I had thought for sure the police had a few of us gang members
The dirt side-road fell farther off to the north, by the railroad yard. We all scattered and hid
Behind cut banks, under cabooses, behind trees, and I kept running, I was fast
One of the boys had stopped was stooped over and throwing up his beer and whatever, he looked at me passing, smiling
Smiling as if he had a secret, with dynamite eyes;
I never stopped until I got back into our neighborhood, where everything was familiar; we had been close to Rice Street, a distance away
From street to street. The boys returned slowly
And took up where they had left off, before we had decided to abandon the dusty turnabout, and empty lot for a drinking hole someone discovered near Rice Street, and that railroad yard-
Some of the boys were already sitting on the Church steps, another drinking spot, off Jackson Street!
That summer was hot, with no wind, very high temperatures
I remember the houses looked like heads of trees of a forest many night in my drunken stupors.
The neighborhood was south of Rice Street,
As if in a gorge, the center of it being more of a triangle
Stretching out from Mississippi Street, right to left, to each end of the graveyard, Old Oakland Cemetery
A glittering ocean of graves and mounds, and weeds and tombstones,
Perhaps at one time a farm back before the Civil War, back before Minnesota was a State, back before 1858…
“I think they’ll be coming searching the neighborhood,” said one of the boys,” that one night.
And another boy said, “I wish they’d let us be.”
We were a world, in a world without them.
Stork, a tall lad, his lameness gave him a kind of older look, but he was as young as I, at that time sixteen, tall in thin-faced, one day we stole horses at the University Farms, and rode one giant house for an hour or so until some watchman yelled us out of there.
Don, had that long and seemingly arched nose, like a Greek.
Doug, the dynamite man, he was five years older than I, strong as a bull
He liked to light the fuse to things, you know, make a show of it.
One night I hid under a car, and the police found me, drunk as a skunk.
Another night I was too drunk to leave a case of beer in the middle of the empty lot, and the police picked me up, put me in detention for two weeks.
If the cops drove by and didn’t stop we simple frowned at them without speaking, square to round shouldered, heavy to light jawed-
“You’re all donkeys down here in Donkeyland, that’s what we call you down at the station,” said Howie the Cop to us boys, who always seemed to have a smile ready, or available.
When he spoke or answered, saying to us: “This is Donkeyland” Doug or Larry or Roger would say, “You don’t say.”
Then usually his companion would say, “We know you took the copper from the junkyard the other night, I’m warning you to stay out of that area”·
And Doug would say “Oh, was I warned?”
And the cop’s face would flush back; and one of us would say, not me, but one of us, “Go to hell.”
Howie would calm him down.
And then someone would tease Howie’s companion by saying “If you’ve got a complaint take it to the county!”
Sometimes Howie’s companions would come between him and us, we all liked Howie, and Howie would tell him to be quiet, but he’d not do so, and Howie would just shake his head.
One night he found me hiding under a car, Howie did, and his pal, and his pal wanted to take me down to jail, and Howie said, “No, let’s just take him home, his mother, she’ll be worried, but I best not see you out again tonight!”
And I’d nod my head, up and down.
With Howie we never felt persecuted; we’d all tell him things no other cops knew.
His partners always seemed to have obstinate eyes.
And when the neighborhood boys would tie one of the newer boys from the neighborhood to the firebox, and pull the alarm to watch from Indians Hill the fire trucks come to rescue him, sometimes even half naked, a guest of the fire department, although I never took part in it, but observed it from a distance, they’d all laugh, as the police ten minutes later would raid the neighborhood.
Even burst into houses without warrants.
During my graduation year from Washington High School, I missed 64-days because Sidney Moller, would come and find me before I’d walk into those heavy school doors, and we’d go in his 1955-Dodge and get drunk some place.
And Bill Kapuan, he and I’d get drunk in someone’s garage, without them knowing, until caught, then we’d run like hell.
He and I played the guitar, did karate together, were going to put together a band called “The Blue Dreamers,” but of course we never did, he died young, as did Sidney.
Compacted into the little group, were a number of St. Clare’s, Chippewa Indians, Jackie and Jennie and John and a few other, I dated Jacky for a while, she was my age, light bronze skin, shorter than taller, cute, I was perhaps fourteen or fifteen at the time.
They originated from Red Earth, Reservation, and the family lived off Sycamore Street.
Tom, a big drunk, went with Trudy, a St. Clare girl, the oldest I think of the clan.
And Jack, Tom’s brother whom I hung around with, had a 88 Olds, and we zoomed around town together in it-he ended up going to Vietnam like Bill and I did; I went out with this new gal from the neighborhood for a month or so, she was Mexican, he ended up marrying her when he got back from Nam.
And there was Don and his friends a decade older than all of us, and he died of liver disease, he and his friends, would sit by lamplight on the porch at night and drink themselves silly, looking down Jackson street across the street from the Church Steps, were us boys would drink our beer and wine and whatever, yelling at cars driving by.
Don and his pals would drink themselves so pale white, so redeye, when you’d talked to them they couldn’t even move their lips to answer, dried as a sucked in prune from the alcohol.
This was some of what I parted with when I left the neighborhood
“Ah,” I told myself leaving, “not as easy as you think. But good-bye, brothers, and for evermore!”
It was about time I left anyhow, we had moved there in 1958, and now it was 1968, a decade-
And within that decade I had ventured already to Omaha, and Seattle and Southern California, not for long periods but short, with gang members, if you can call any of us members-
We were simply part of something, and now San Francisco would prove to be different-from there a new perspective on life would capture if not haunt me…
Perhaps more than any other trip, this would be the catalyst to whom I’d become in later years!
I mean, it wasn’t abandonment, but so little remained to do in Donkeyland, anyone could finish it!
So I nipped at the chance to go to see the city by the bay, I’d meet a friend there, and stay with him for two weeks, then be on my own!
And so I rolled up my trousers and caught a train west.
And now at twenty-years old, I had time to see what the world outside of Donkeyland was all about.
When I told them I was leaving, Reno said:
“That San Francisco, has a lot of homosexuals, be careful don’t come back one!” He died in his 40s, in prison, a drug addict.
“What?” Richard Z, said (he ended up in prison for rape)
“What?” a number of other friends said.
But they knew and understood now, I wanted to travel, as I said, I had already been to: Obama, and North and South Dakota and Seattle under my belt, as well as Long Beach California-
I have always notice and missed Donkeyland, those years I suppose and now I am trying to keep the legacy alive, if for any reason, posterity sake.
Although it didn’t need any more of me in it!
But you the reader, you can understand why I refrained from it, it was a matter of survival, and it was becoming my nemeses.
I would have lost virtue; I had no strength or will to fight against it.
It was it, they. The Neighborhood.
Donkeyland was a provable lock onto my mind and craving, I was a communal risk, to myself, and my future.
I remember the last time I was inside one of those two bars, John St. Clair’s wife, told me “Chick, get out of here, you’re sober, you’ll end up like all of us,” and I said “what about you!”
It was good advice, at her expense.
And she replied, “I can’t leave, I got John and the kids, I’m caught!”
I reckon that’ll do for my part in this narration-per near anyhow.
But I don’t want to leave you high and dry, so I’ll do what poets do best, leave you with a poem:
Behold her, our dear Donkeyland, where she stands
Beneath the conquered times and sky,
The sword and the trumpet out of her sheathed-
But mercy in her eyes!
Behold her, before her gates:
That one Street and loyal neighborhood,
Fizzing up over our edges ceaselessly,
Each one that waits
Destined to conclusive fates-
Angels of death thunders in her!
No: 4507/8-3-2014 (Behold Donkeyland!)
“Requiem for a Gang” August 2 & 3, 2014/No: 4506
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