It had been a long day. After school (not so taxing) and a rigorous "hanging out" at the 163rd St Shopping Center, a few friends (about 8) attempted to hitch a ride toward our respective homes. No one, oddly, seemed interested in picking up a gaggle of unruly boys. It did not occur to us to split up into smaller groups of 2 and 3.
So we laughed and joked and annoyed the people who had to stop for a red light. We apparently were so successful in annoying those people that a cop came along and suggested ever so gently that we "move along" and not regroup as we did so.
So we did. Move along, that is. We regrouped within a couple of blocks... well after the cop had left the area. I recall we were still in a good mood and even took up some poor singing to pass the time as we trudged the 4 or 5 blocks to the next major intersection where a few of us would head left. "Peanut Butter" was the song of choice with the occasional refrain from "Poison Ivy". This would make the year about 1961. Which meant I was probably 14 at the time.
Frank and "Luigi" (real name "Rhett") and I went left on 19th Avenue and didn't bother even trying to hitch a ride. We chatted and joked and put each other down in that friendly way that rarely led to a bloody nose or black eye. We decided we'd get together that night at the dance at Victory Park, it being a Friday and all.
Frank was an aspiring songwriter who claimed to have written a song which he sent to Ricky Nelson. Nelson, he alleged, rejected it (with thanks, one presumes) and then produced it anyway. Frank had no proof of this, of course.
Luigi was not of Italian descent as far as any of us knew. More like Czech, I believe, or maybe Romanian. He claimed to own a "dog killer" cat which weighed a bit over 20 pounds. I never saw that cat. I don't think anyone else did either.
That night the dance was boring. Not all that unusual. It was rare that anyone other than local teen bands played and it was more a social gathering than a dance. But it was free. We headed over to Frank's house since his parents were out of town. Maybe sneak some booze from his parents and smoke cigarettes. Possibly play a little poker. Which is what we did, except for the poker. Frank stepped out of the living room for a bit. The lights were low, just a small lamp on and light from an aquarium near where Luigi is sitting in a cushioned chair, the radio playing. Frank comes out talking mean at Luigi. Telling him he's sick of his crap and was going to end it. He heads toward Luigi and that's when I notice it... The Gun.
Frank had a snub-nosed revolver in his hand. He moved fast, bringing his hand up, gun now pointing right at Luigi. Luigi is shrinking, trying to squeeze down between the cushions of the chair. He looked scared. I am frozen in place across the room, maybe 12 feet away. Frank looks really mad.
He stands over Luigi, who is trying to make himself as small as possible and who is blubbering things like "What are you doin'?" and "Put it down!"
I see the hammer move back. Frank is squeezing the trigger. He's still saying things like "You are dead! I am gonna blow your brains out!"
And then... he laughs. He backs away. He lets the gun drop to his side. Luigi is barely able to breathe. I am just trying to remember how myself.
"It's a joke, man", says Frank. "You should see your face", he laughs.
Luigi is laughing now, although rather nervously. I still can't say anything. I saw that hammer pulling back. I was thinking I was going to see someone die and now I couldn't get my heartbeat back to anywhere near normal.
Luigi is asking if the gun is loaded. Frank says to come outside and we follow him to the side yard. He aims up into the night sky, toward Greynolds park, a block away, and squeezes the trigger. It was the loudest noise I had ever heard.
The rest of the night is lost to me.
A Night Unremembered
2 years ago