Father McCormack Cardinal Hayes Class of ’75
When we hit puberty
we adopt a Bronx look
as teenagers will.
Things are bad, boss, stupid silly
We ride the I. R. T.
See Kung Fu Movies
on forty deuce
Listen to Roger Dawson
Nasty Joe Gaines weeknights
Waiting for those
Carlos, Carlos and Cheito
Pose for memories
In Playland’s photo booths
With our look
Broadway stars in our
The uniform of the time is simple
Playboy shoes or
Little Abner boots
But don’t wear those
Tom McCaan Playboys
With the bubble top
Marshmallow shoes after 1973
Sharkskin or double knit pants
Chino pants and Pumas
For hanging out
Flowered Pattern Knit shirts
A long black cashmere coat
Don’t you be wearing Pleather
And a brim
Well you have a choice
Either a single or double bop
Today, young tough guys walk with a side to side motion like clearing a field on a chain gang. Hip Hops originators – cats from the Bronx – walk with an up and down energy; slightly lifting ourselves on the ball of our left or right foot to create a bop in our walk – a wave of energy that rises above the horizon, so to speak. We’re jumping at the sun just like Roberto Clemente snagging a fly ball in the outfield or Juan Marcial doing that elegant wind up kick on the pitchers mound. For the more adventurous there’s the double bop like Pitcher Louie Tiant’s pivot pump but that was a bit extreme and goofed on if you couldn’t pull it off. I only knew one homeboy who does it with Style, Ed Robinson from Harlem USA. He coaches me in a brief track career where I go to the Junior Olympics and place second in the mile regionals.
An ethnic mix of young guys at Cardinal Hayes High School in the South Bronx surround me united in one purpose: don’t let the priests catch you doing anything. They’re like black draped phantoms and appear out of thin air when you pull some stunt. The schools intercom system serves as operations central:
“John Bugafusca report to the Dean of Disciplines Office immediately! We know you’re in the building. Surrender now … come out come out wherever you are Mr. Bugafusca and meet your destiny!”
“Mr. Bugafusca you’ve been spotted hiding in the second floor lockers … son don’t make me come and get you.”
There was always a dramatic flair among these Christian Brothers, Franciscan, Jesuit and Marist Priests. As demonstrated by Father McCormack, a former middleweight boxer with a propensity for steel tapped shoes.
Click Click Click Click
Gentlemen, you are here in our care. There is a term in Latin that applies to this particular situation En Loco Parentis. Do any of you, hmm, scholars know what that means? Come now … It’s Latin for ‘In Place of The Parent’. Gentlemen, you are in our charge and we can do with you what any parent can do and from the looks of it we will be dispensing discipline on a grand scale with this motley crew.”
“Who said that … You, stand up and come here.”
“What is your name.”
What a way to start life at Hayes. They’re more than five hundred freshmen assembled in the auditorium. 450 graduate in my class. Those priests don’t fool around.
“Mr. WHAT! Well Mr. Charlemagne or whatever your name is report up here immediately. Right here … Right now … That’s right … Stand right there, son. Gentleman, this is an example of what you are to expect with any insubordination.”
“Whoa Father take it easy!”
“Congratulations, Mister Sang Huang Hey er…. Chaloosian. You will be taking it easy in detention for two weeks. Now, back to your seat. That’s right. Take yourself back to your seat. Splendid. Sit! Gentleman use all your proverbial talents wisely and don’t cross us. We will find you wherever you are and set your mind right. God help us all. You are on your way to becoming Hayes Men ready to battle incompetence in the world. Don’t blow it. Stand UP … I will be proud to lead your wonderful boys into battle any time …
Click Click Click Click
But it isn’t all Patton like discipline. Hayes priests and lay teachers have some heavy duty lessons to give. Father Principe is this ramrod first generation Italian man who is Jake Lamotta with a conscience. Martin Scorcese pays this man much respect. He’s a real stand up guy. He can wrap this magnificently oversized set of hands (he had been a star football receiver at Hayes) and conceal a volume of theological discourse as easily as the side of your head.
He doesn’t have to smack us around too much to get our attention. Father is one of us. A wiseguy with a calling. He introduces our classes to the world of Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scholar whose also an anthropologist. De Chardin’s spiritual writings in light of his anthropological studies give him a perspective that challenges the status quo in creationism. The Vatican gags him. This is my kind of guy. Other teachers at the school make us look at the bigger picture – though at heart most of them are a bunch of smartasses like English teachers Father Johnston and Wild Bill Kerrigan,
“Boys, Boys, Boys, Boys …. The lesson here is truth. Yes, St. Augustine became a pious light in the early Church but let us examine what got him there. His life is drenched in debauchery – lust and debauchery boys, boys, boys. You can’t escape it gentlemen. He absolutely debauched himself and then examined his life. Got a best seller out of it and influenced an entire culture.”
“A factor which prompts the Southern Grotesque Flannery O’Connor to write her seminal work A Good Man Is Hard To Find … but gentlemen … of course, for Ms. O’Connor A Hard Man Is Better To Find. Do not write that down in your notes, boys. It is merely for mental mastur… I mean Observation.”
It doesn’t take much to spur on my hormones in those days. I read on the back cover of an O’Connor short story collection that “she now lives in Georgia raising peacocks.”
After Bill Kerrigans joke I have this fantasy of a naked Flannery O’Connor sauntering about these huge plumed birds. A fantasy destroyed when I see a picture of an old dried up wrinkled O’Connor. A real southern grotesque. And here she’s a buxom 27 year old brunette South Bronx kind of Irish/Rican girl in my mind.
I attend classes with the late Broadway gypsy John Aller. In our Senior Year John appears in Equus replacing Elliot Gould and bounces from Broadway show to show until he gets sick from the virus and goes to perform in heaven. I do get mad at God taking him,
“Damn, Yo he was just hitting his stride” but such is life in the big city. What are you going to do?
John arranges for me to audition at the Alliance of Latin Artists in the summer of 1975. The Alliance is a professional summer touring group that presents folkloric dancers and singers throughout the city.
Thirty performers are on call. Three quarters of the Alliance is Puerto Rican dancers and singers from the High School of Performing Arts. The school is made famous in the movie Fame. As good as it is, the movie only captures a tenth of that school’s energy.
I meet Isa Diaz while touring with the Alliance. She wants to be a headliner and plays the part well. A five foot six Cuban redhead (bottle of course) who knows every trick in the trade. She perfects the way to get all eyes on her when she’s on stage by plugging in a hundred watt smile, working her long black eyelashes and showing a lot of chutzpah. She works night and day to get on Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway, way the Hell Off Broadway. There’s also Latin Nightclub hustle/mambo dance reviews, street theater and endless voice/dance classes– you name it she does it.
She believes in the old school approach to celebrity personified by Jose Ferer, Rita Moreno and Miriam Colon. They strive for perfection and believe that in doing so they achieve the celebrity they do. Few can match Ferrer’s command of the English language or Moreno’s talent to cross theatrical boundaries as an actress and musical theater performer. No one can play a maid better than Colon on the movie screen.
Every day during high school I tune in WBLS Radio into the early evening to get my daily dose of funky soul:
The color of the day is yellow
One oh seven point five
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