|THE TITLE: WUNDERKIND, (WONDER CHILD), IS RESERVED FOR THE RAREST OF YOUNG PRODIGIES (UNDER 18) WHO EXCEL IN A SPECIFIC FIELD, ON AN ADULT LEVEL. LIKE PABLO PICASSO IN ART, MOZART (above) AT AGE 5, COMPOSED SOME THE MOST FAMOUS MUSIC OF ALL TIME.|
This mandate seemed natural because Zee was already getting taunted at school due to his foreign accent and a stammering problem. His overly protective parents tried to insulate him from the less sophisticated portion of the population but their actions only served to reinforce his inferiority issues and delay his development. A few years later (1976), at Brooklyn College, is where I came in.
I met (was thrown together with) Zee through a mutual friend, MBF. We were going to a party in Staten Island but MBF wanted the autonomy to "fly solo" in case he picked-up a girl. So he introduced me to Zee and suggested that I get a ride in his Z-Mobile.
The Z-Mobile was a high school graduation present from his parents. For a hundred dollars, they bought him a deteriorated, 1954 Nash Rambler that had been buried under debris in a cousin's barn for ten years.
Our first major conflict occurred at the end of June, 1976. A large group of friends decided to go on a canoe trip down the Delaware Water Gap. Zee was familiar with the Callicoon New York area and wanted to go up a day early so he could show me around. His plan concentrated on taking me to a "great" bar called, Bend-N-Elbow. He claimed it had a reputation for easy girls plus his parent's summer home was nearby. Well...last call came and we didn't pick anybody up. Zee who really wasn't in any condition to drive (neither was I) thought I still needed to be entertained. So he drove to a field next to a small county airport where local teenage couples went for romantic liaisons. We had a long heart to heart conversation but by 2:30AM, it was time to go to his family's bungalow.
Four hours later, I don't know who was more shocked, me, Zee or his folks but they showed up a week before the Fourth of July, to open the house for the season They smelled the alcohol on Zee and woke him up. An argument ensued. My head was pounding as his mother rousted us outside to help his father while she made breakfast.
The chore of the day was to dig out a fair-sized stump, (or as Zee's dad called it, a schtoomp). Zee's dad took a pick ax, a spade and a shovel from the shed. Then with as much sarcastic venom as my hung-over head could produce I said, "Where's the dynamite?" Zee's dad countered, "To fully appreciate the bountiful breakfast you are about to receive, you must first experience suffering."
I knew his family endured tremendous hardships when they escaped through the iron curtain but this all-day project really required better tools. Out of respect, I gave his dad about twenty minutes. Zee was feeling the same way. That's when he and I recognized the potential futility and exchanged harsh glares. When dad left us alone, we conferred and decided to give up and leave. His dad didn't take the news well. He followed us when we collected our stuff. Inside, the table was set with four bowls, a small container of milk and a variety pack of little cereal boxes. We ignored the bounty, said some kind words and jumped into the Z-Mobile. His mother followed us out and was muttering in her native tongue as we drove off.
Towards the end of that summer, after getting tanked-up at Davey Jones Bar on Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, six of us piled into the Z-Mobile and drove to nearby Manhattan Beach.
|HARD TO BELIEVE THAT THIS IS THE BEST PHOTO OF MANHATTAN BEACH ON THE INTERNET. IF YOU ARE WONDERING WHY MANHATTAN BEACH IS IN BROOKLYN...IT'S BECAUSE THAT IS THE NAME OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.|
These were the days before 9-1-1. One of our girls took the boy's car to find a phone. It took about thirty minutes before an ambulance arrived. During the wait, Zee and Scotty never stopped trying to revive the boy. The EMT's then confirmed our worst suspicions.
Zee and Scotty decided to go to the wake. When Zee came out of his room wearing a suit, his mom asked questions. She didn't believe that the poor boy had a heart attack. She assumed he was on drugs and blamed the low-life (me) for having her angel associate with other low-life's.
The next time I reached the top of his family's shit-list was in 1977. I took Zee to an illegal after-hours bar that featured nude dancers. It turned out to be pretty lame. The skeevie place had almost no customers, the skanky girls danced like they were indifferent (or on barbiturates) and the Neanderthal bouncers who out numbered the patrons, were rude. We separated after having our first beer. Zee drifted over to chat with a peroxide blond dancer while she was on a break.
The place was dreary and I was so bored that I started to nod off. A huge goon with no neck poked me to remind me that I hadn't reached the two-drink minimum. I didn't want to stay and didn't want another over-priced drink. But because I was a good wingman, I wanted to stall long enough for Zee to get his foot in the door with the girl.
I told the overbearing jerk, "I'm not ready for another drink yet." Ten minutes later he returned with a posse of two equally large henchmen and said, "Ready for another drink, now?" I said, "Nah, maybe later." One of the other enforcers said, "You ain't drinkin', you ain't stayin'." I said, "You throwing me out?" The first guy said, "Yeah." I said, "If you throw me out, I'm taking ALL my friends with me!" They looked around the empty club, called my bluff and smirked, "Wise-ass, yuh outta here." I held my head high and yelled across the room, "C'mon Zee, we're leaving."
In the Z-Mobile, Zee told me he pitied Blondie. She wanted to go to college but had ten-month old twins, her boyfriend left her and her mother refused to help. The next day, Zee saw it fit to share that tidbit with his mom. She threatened to disown him if he continued hanging around with that derelict (me) or if he ever went to a strip club again.
Zee remained loyal to me and nothing changed except I never called his house...well actually, there was one time. The exception happened in late December 1977 when twelve of us rented a ski chalet in Killington Vermont, for the New Years Eve weekend. I was driving that night. I was supposed to start picking people up but my car wouldn't start. I had to call Zee (luckily he answered) and tell him the heater-less, radio-less Z-Mobile needed to be pressed into service for the long trek north.
|MY CAR WAS A 1968 DODGE POLARA, (a.k.a. THE THUNDERBOLT GREASE SLAPPER). I ACHIEVED TONS OF FAHRVERGNUGEN WITH IT, LIKE THE 1977 TRIP (above) TO ELLENVILLE NEW YORK.|
Unfortunately, Zee never told his folks where he was going and for how long.
In November 1978, I pissed off his family again. It started at the Gil Hodges Bowling Alley. While waiting for other friends, Zee and I went into the modest, blue collar bar. I got a Miller High Life but Zee stammered, "I-I-I'll have a Grand M-Marnier." The bartender responded to his accent and roared, "Grand Marnier? Where do you think you are, Buckingham
When the rest of my friends showed up, nobody wanted to bowl. So the plan was changed to a road trip out to a disco on Long Island called Rumbottoms.
Our three-car caravan arrived at 11:00PM. Outside the club was a gigantic, colorful tarpaulin sign tied to the wall advertising, "BUSCH BEER COMING SOON!" Then in a blank space, hand-painted in black, the sign read: "RUMBUTTOMS WELCOMES - WET TEE-SHIRT CONTEST EVERY TUESDAY AT MIDNIGHT. FIRST PRIZE $250.00."
Spirits were high in the Z-Mobile during the drive home. Zee showed off the Rumbottoms tee-shirt he bought as the other passengers and I relived the night's highlights with excitement and laughter. But Zee wasn't contributing to the conversation so I said to him, "It was too bad that bouncer broke up the cat-fight before it really got started." Zee had to have the term cat-fight explained. Someone else said, "Dude, how did you miss that? It was the best part." Zee said, "I-I didn't go over there." I said, "WHAT? Why?" He said, "I d-d-didn't realize what kind of contest it was. I was just glad everyone left and I got a s-s-seat at the bar." My other friend said, "C'mon. Didn't you hear when the emcee said, 'NO BUSH?' Weren't you curious why we all went crazy?" Zee shrugged, "I thought whoever was in the contest c-c-couldn't drink beer."
It didn't take Zee's mom long to find the Rumbottoms shirt. In the interrogation that followed, he was threatened with getting kicked out of the house. When he didn't flinch his dad said, "If you don't drop that bum as a friend, maybe you can pay off your own grad-school loans!" Zee pretended to be intimidated as he internally laughed it off because dad had no clue that I was moving to Las Vegas in a month.
Six years later when the Z-Mobile was long forgotten, I attended Zee's wedding. During the ceremony and the reception, his folks shunned me. Their son was already a successful professional but in their parochial, inflexible, black and white world, they still thought I had some sort of despicable Svengali hold over him. Then in their own mind their fears were validated when they found out that I led a contemptible, corrupt life of moral shortcomings and degradation, in the casino industry.
Zee's folks understandably wanted to keep their boy safe. But their rigidity couldn't stop Zee's basic instinct for progress. Once he allowed his curiosity to take him down new streets and beyond the horizon, he still had the proper upbringing and responsibility ethic, to know when to back down. During our adventures, we never let our fun be an excuse to hurt anyone. We never strayed too far from the spirit of the law and we didn't do anything that we would regret.
I believe it's crucial for all of us to have the freedom to learn from our mistakes. The discovery of new things, is the key to our personal evolution. Like the advancement of civilization, we accept some new knowledge but reject most. That is what progress is, a gradual cultural exchange of sharing and diversity. So even if we don't adopt the new ideas we are exposed to, a more sophisticated mind would be at least opened to other possibilities. If we remained so rigid that we could never intellectually grow then being king of the apes, and teasing foreigners, might be the best we could aspire to.
Who knows, if I didn't take that first ride in the Z-Mobile maybe our fates would have been different. But I'm positive that I'm a better person for having had him as a friend and perhaps, in some small way, I helped liberate him from being a stammering, perpetual victim.
In the last twenty-eight years I saw Zee twice. The last time was in Atlantic City, (1993). I told him that I was disappointed that his gray Lexus didn't have a spray-painted silver "Z" on the roof. He didn't stammer when he changed subject.
On several occasions with the popularity of social networking being what it is, I have tried in vain to see Zee. He lives in New York and remains in contact with MBF. When I tried to include Zee when MBF and I met two years ago, Zee never responded to the invitation or any of the other E-Mails I sent. Wouldn't it be crazy if his parents poisoned his bride's mind. Maybe he couldn't see me because she was l worried that I would lure him into strip clubs or other dens of iniquity?