Rumblin’ Around ‘N Tumblin’ Down
I heard a great song on the radio the other day, Rumble, by Link Wray and the Wraymen. As I emotionally drifted off into the undulating, guitar rhythms of “Rumble,” my mind started drifting back to good old, bad-ass days of Detroit (late 1950s and early 1960s) when a select cadre of over-the-top, highly testosteroned, Northwest Detroit cats whacked each other around… as a way of life. When I grew up in Detroit, I never heard anybody ever say, “have a good day”… but I did hear a lot of “how about I kick your ass ???”
One such “ass kickin’ day” was Friday February 3, the day after Groundhog’s Day… that day in 1961 when Punxsutawney Phil came out of his groundhog headquarters, ran around in hyperventilated circles and then suddenly expired… a harbinger of endless winter. Or, with a little 20-20 hindsight, a harbinger that our full moon, Detroit world was about to get a little “whacked out” of focus… for a while. That particular February 3, 1961 started off with a bang and closed the same way. It was, as they say in the parlance of baseball, a “Twin Bill”… a double rumble, orchestrated in a syncopated, 7/8ths time signature… one two– punch, punch… one two– duck, duck and three four, out the door, before the cops show up.
It was a cold winter’s day in the “Big D”, but things got hot, soon and often. It was the First Friday of the month… so we had an abbreviated, half day schedule at Catholic Central High School. Right after an 11:30 A.M. Mass, some of my C.C. cohorts and I left school, and headed out to our Lady of Sorrows High School… to set the record straight over some real or imagined, prior dispute at a St. Agatha High School party from the week before. Some of my Benedictine High School pals joined in to provide some transportation needs from the hood to suburban Farmington.
Hey… it just ain’t cool to take public transportation to a rumble… not to mention the limitations of a “quick get way” waiting for the bus while the gendarmes are scouring the area for various “perps” (aka perpetrators), “persons of interests” (aka lower echelon “perps”) and witnesses (aka “innocent bystanders”). Hey, the priests at Catholic Central denied our request to use the school bus to travel to Our Lady of Sorrows to practice our boxing maneuvers on some wannabe tough guys in the suburbs. We had to scramble for transportation needs that were befitting of our lowly station in the hierarchy and in the pantheon of “Who’s Who” in Motown. Nevertheless, we were a disciplined bunch so we arrived early for the rumble, and us C.C. guys and our “back up,” Benedictine pugilists were waiting at the door when the Our Lady of Sorrows school bell rang, heralding in the weekend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA8uYJstvsc
Well that first part of the day-night double header, “dust up” ended with a 1 to nothing victory for our side… as I was able to outbox Lady of Sorrows tough guy, Michael Sutter, a huge 6’ 4” 200 pounder of limited pugilistic skills. Sutter was a mouthy s.o.b. and you would have thought “aggressive” was his middle name. As we clashed head-on, he managed to tear the C.C. letter off my letter jacket before his nose got broken and he cried “uncle.” Our C.C. crew then managed to clear out before anyone one could I.D. us or drop a dime on the cops from the public phone booth (remember them ???).
On the way back to Detroit, we stopped off at Diane Rotenheber’s house in Redford. Diane, a good lookin’ blond from St. Agatha, sewed my C.C. letter back on my jacket… making her an unwitting “accessory after the fact.” When Diane finished with her magic thread, I was as good as new, all set to go in style to the Catholic Central basketball game the same night… at the Memorial Building (now Calihan Hall… named after University of Detroit “All American” basketball player and long time coach, Irish Bob Calihan).
Round two starts later in the evening. After the C.C. basketball game, around 11: P.M. (12 hours after Mass ended), my C.C. football buddy, John Lombardi, and I headed up to Caeser Pizzeria on 7 mile and Southfield for a little, late night repast. It had already been a long day, and I was getting a little weak from lack of nutrition. A growing kid cannot live on Hostess Cupcakes alone, and, besides, I had already burned off a lot of energy and absorbed a few whacks and dings, here and there, in the mid afternoon rumble in the suburban jungle. As I approached the front door of the Pizza joint, I noticed Joe Cavaleto and Bob Hughes, two dubious characters from Redford High School, lurking in the shadows by the entranceway. I should have known that something was (as they say in a Shakespeare play)… “afoot.”
I was soon to find out what nefarious plan was, indeed, “afoot.” As I approach the front door, I looked warily back over my left shoulder to check out what Cavaleto and Hughes were up to. I turned my head just in time to see Hughes lunge forward, his hands extend in my direction… pushing me into a window at the side of the front door. Okay, it’s on again. I ducked Hughes’ second run at me, and Hughes ended up with his back to the front door of the restaurant. I caught him with a hard, short right hand shot to the chin… momentarily stunning him. Hughes and I with Cavaleto in hot pursuit crashed through the front door and into the Pizza parlor, swinging away with a dazed Hughes “skipping like a stone” over the table tops and crashing into a booth… Boink!!@#$%&*&;Boink$#@!!!!#$%$#!!!… Take that Sona B_ _ _ !!! and a little more for desert… Boink!!!@#$!!!&Smack*%$#.
“Whoa”!!! You can say that again. Whoa and “woe is us” !!! The cops were sittin’ in a booth at Caesar’s enjoying a pizza, while bewilderedly looking down at the top of my head and at a semi-vanquished Hughes laying flat on his back as I am wailing away and the juke box is playing… I Fought the Law and the Law Won (Bobby Fuller Four) !!!
Et tu Brute ??? Time to split. “Let’s get in the wind“… Adios to one and all!!! It’s been a blast!!! But, wait… wait a minute. Where’s my C.C. letter Jacket… the one with my name monogramed it ??? Dammit… the jacket was ripped off my back and was still in the restaurant, and it would soon be on the way to the cop’s, 16th Precinct “evidence” room. I made a clean get away, but my monogrammed C.C. letter jacket didn’t get into the wind with my vastly disappearing self. I had no choice. I had to sneak back in the restaurant, and steal my own letter jacket. Back into the Pizza joint, I go with a look of all innocence… “Oh nothing. How’s everybody doing” ???
But, the cops are hip to what’s going on. They recognized my “jacket-less” self by the puffiness of my left eye and the bruises on my knuckles. Never put your monogram on your letter jacket. Caught by the long arm of the law, off to the 16th Precinct we go, one and all… the enemies, Cavaleto and Hughes, and me-self… with Lombardi ducking’ out of the deal and making a clean escape through the alley way, a tight fit for his old man’s wheels, but, eventually, Lombardi hits Southfield road and he’s long gone, Southbound, down to his home base in St. Susanne’s parish… not even a suspect, a person of interest or an identifiable witness. Long Gonnnnnne !!!… just like Detroit Tiger Announcer, Van Patrick, use to say after each home run at Briggs Stadium (later Tiger Stadium… where, a few months before, John Lombardi and I and our C.C. teammates took on Denby High School in the 1960, City Championship, Goodfellow, Football Game before 39,000 fans).
Now I gotta figure out a good defense for this mutual affray of “Disturbing the Peace.” That’s it “mutual affray”!!!… all willing participants and no victims, other than the patrons whose dinner got (shall I say) splashed about the floor and the walls a bit. Anybody got any cop friends who can vouch for us as “good Catholic boys,” from good homes tinged with only a “wee bit” of understandable dysfunction. We need to put a punctuation point at the end of this episode and resolve this little misunderstanding right now… without any further ado and without the intervention of any cops, lawyers or Judges. Apologies all around and we will be back in business again… back in class on Monday, no jail, no probation and an admonition to “go and sin no more.” No !!! What do you mean “no” ??? Since when is the legal system not buying into apologies, contrition and warnings ??? When it comes to forgiving my minor transgressions, peccadilloes and Irish Misdemeanors… all committed with the best of intentions., the word “no” is not in my lexicon of options. But “no” it is.
Well, Your Honor… You ask why ???… why my client was involved in this rather minor dust up ??? As my client says Your Honor… “It seem like the right thing to do at the time”… know what I mean. Case dismissed… now stay away from Caesar’s Pizzeria (hey… I ain’t got no money left for a pizza, anyway). Then… go to college, get an education and be forever grateful for those in the positions of power who were able to forgive and let the dysfunctional “caricatures of ourselves” slide through the turnstile of Justice as redeemable Jean Valjean, Les Miserable characters and James Dean…Rebels Without a Cause anti heroes.
And so, 50 years ago this year in 1969, I finished my last Law School exam, exited the University of Detroit Law School, took a deep breath, exhaled and walked across the parking lot of the University of Detroit Law School for the last time… and said goodbye to 20 years of “formal education.” Over the next 50 years of life and law, as a Trial Lawyer standing in front of Juries, I threw many more shots, literally and figuratively, and also took a few shots… along the way. But, as Shakespeare said… All’s Well that Ends Well. I guess.
Thank you for reading this letter of contrition.
Sincerely… Downtown Freddie from Detroit