Walter Waterman

By: kmarulis

Mar 27 2010

Category: 1

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To Walter
Walter Waterman was a nice Jewish kid who, well, how do I say it, took a left turn when perhaps he should have taken a right.

He was born Jewish at a time when there was an onus on someone who happened to be born a Jew. The Holocaust of World War 11 was still fresh in the minds of most humans and Jews, as a consequence, were saddled with the stereotyped image of a people who would not adequately fight back when confronted with physical adversity. I do believe that this image has been erased but at that time, in the 1950’s and early 60’s, it was a reality and a burden for a kid born into the projects of New York City.

Most Jewish youngsters would compensate for this situation by studying hard and by keeping to themselves. Avoiding the goyim was a standard practice and a strategy for survival.

Avoidance as a dutiful call wasn’t the chosen path for Walter, and he decided instead to join forces with the urchins of those mean streets. He would, by virtue of his own determination, become just as tough and as mean as any other. He would reject his brethren’s given image of perpetual victim and he would learn instead to prowl as a predator. Walter, the nice Jewish boy, was now gone and in his place was born an aspiring tough guy who would do whatever it took to earn his street stripes.

Over time, I had often wondered about Walter and the reasons behind his flawed decision making process and why did he choose the path that he did?

It would be easy to chalk this one up to peer pressure with poor parental skills and a lack of supervision from his family, but in this case, that’d be the easy way out. Life for Walter went beyond those shallow excuses and as I eventually had gotten closer to him and became his friend, I did learn more about the complex nature of Walter’s solitary view of the world. The reasons behind his distorted views of social acceptance had in it’s roots feelings of shame and a fear of social ostracization.

In time, I had been to Walter’s apartment and I had met his younger brother Lenny and had even seen his dad around a few times, but I had never met, nor even seen, nor had even heard of the existence of a mother. What I had heard of, and had seen, was the hand holding evidence of a girlfriend of his dad’s who happened to be a black woman.

Now, today, an interracial relationship between a white man and a black woman would hardly cause a stare of curiosity, but in those days fingers would be pointed and there would be blatant condemnations from all sides of the racial divide. Walter’s dad and this woman he obviously loved, had courage and were ahead of their times, but try telling that to a young teenage boy who is struggling to find his way in the world.

Couple that relationship with the trauma of being separated from his birth mother and his perceived alienation from the Jewish community who would frown upon his dad’s relationship with a non-Jew and a black woman to boot. Consider also, that many, if not most children who experience a loss of a parent will spend the rest of their days roaming this earth with a hole in their heart, no matter how well adjusted they may be perceived.

So, this was the Walter Waterman who hit the street and who would embark on his personal mission of acceptance. As common knowledge would tell, any worthwhile career would require at least a small amount of training and Walter eventually took up with a wiry Italian kid by the name of Amedeo, who would take Walter under his wing and teach him the ropes of being a tough guy.

Amedeo’s teaching method was simple. As they would walk down the street Amedeo would point out an innocent victim and instruct Walter to walk up to this individual and punch him in the face. It was Amedeo’s contention that only direct physical confrontation would change Walter’s ingrained passive mindset and which would thus eventually turn him into an urban warrior. For myself, I was not witness to these episodes and I’d have no idea for how long Walter’s schooling lasted, but by the time I had met him he was bona fide and had become an accepted hang-out kind of guy.

I was a couple of years younger than Walter but I had already engaged in my own share of conflicts. While I was never the type to go looking for trouble I would not be a pushover either and I think I was considered a brash little kid and an annoyance to the older guys who hung out on the street corner. Myself and my best friend at the time, Joey DeStefano, would make it our mission to irritate this older group by showing up and razzing them at every opportunity. Resentment had grown towards us and we reveled in it. We weren’t afraid of them and it was our joy to give them a hard time and make them mad.

Well, things would eventually come to a head. It was inevitable. We were ambitious and we were determined. We would break into their ranks whether they liked it or not.

I had an anti-drug reputation at that time. Pot was just fine, but the opiate pills and the heroin were beyond my comprehension, and despite the deluge, I was determined to fight against this tide of destruction. The insidious signs of this creeping menace was all around but my neighborhood hadn’t yet felt the full brunt of this disease. Not so our neighboring community called Hillside Homes. The youth there had been ravaged and that development was filled to the brim with junkies. I hated junkies and I hated the pestilence that they brought with them. Despite my youth and smaller size, I was determined to fight them and keep them out.

Well, it just so happened that I had a sister who had taken up with one of those guys from hillside. Even though this guy named Joe didn’t share that reputation for drug abuse, the thought of him coming from Hillside and the danger my sister could be in infuriated me. I would do something about this situation, for sure.

It wasn’t long after learning of my sister’s new romantic interest that the opportunity to do something about it presented itself. I was standing on the corner hanging out one evening and who should I see coming down off of the hill from the direction of Hillside Homes but none other than the object of my sister’s affections. It was the sight of Joe coming across the street that inflamed me and as soon as he got within striking distance I pounced on him and proceeded to bring him to the ground. As I was pounding away at him and as I was informing him of his mistaken attachment to my sister, a curious thing happened. As I straddled Joe and flailed away I began to feel someone pummeling me from behind. It took a moment but as soon as I realized someone was hitting me from behind I jumped up only to find the infamous Walter Waterman taking revenge upon me for all of the perceived slights that I and my partner Joey DeStefano had inflicted upon him and his older group of friends. Here was Walter, who had seized upon the opportunity to put this young punk in his place and set him straight once and for all.

So here I was, I had one new enemy in whom I had just brought to ground, and I had Walter in front of me who was itching to teach this kid a lesson, and I had a whole group of older guys who would possibly throw in a few kicks and punches once I was down and safely subdued. It was a dilemma that begged for a solution and for which my fighting adrenalin could offer no hope.

Walter owned a souped-up fifty two Ford sedan, the kind of car that’s shaped like a bullet in the front and which you could see on those old detective shows going down the street with their sirens blasting. It became my idea that me and Walter would go somewhere else to fight, away from prying eyes, and then we’d come back to the corner when our business was done.

I wasn’t sure if Walter would fall for this ploy which would effectively separate him from his buddies who would be his support system if things got out of hand, but he did. It was decided he would drive me over to the PS(public school)121 playground whereby we would fight, and when we were done he would drive me back to the corner to resume hanging out. It was also agreed between the two of us that the outcome of our combat would be kept between the two of us and not a word would be said about who was the winner and who was the loser.

Needless to say, the agreement was set and he drove me, and he gave up when I beat him down and then he drove me back. If the request is made, then I am a person who prides himself on being able to keep a confidence and the result of this battle was kept between us. Soon afterwards, a change came over the neighborhood and Joey DeStefano and I were accepted, grudgingly perhaps, as peers amongst peers. Walter and I became good friends and my sister eventually married Joe. All’s well that ends well, right? Not on your life and there is a bit more to this story of the enigmatic Walter Waterman.

It should be noted that even at an earlier age, I always drew pictures and made little things with my hands. Soon it came to pass that in the earlier days of the Vietnam conflict Walter came to me and our other friends and appealed to our sense of patriotism and invited us downtown to Columbia (I think ??) University to stage a counter demonstration against all those long haired rich kids who were disparaging the good name of our country. Now truly, I couldn’t really give a shit, but I liked to have fun so I made up a poster of a topless girl holding up her bra whilst entreating the viewer to be patriotic and offer support, just as she was doing.

During the course of this demonstration it occurred to me that Walter might be playing a hand in the orchestration of this event and I wondered over that possibility years later when I thought about a brush between Walter and the Feds some time before. I wondered whether the feds were using him and at their behest , he was using us. In any event, I remember Walter leading the charge of this counter demonstration into the halls of that university in order to physically attack those long haired pinko commies. It was a very weird moment and a very surreal time in the history of our country and my participation at that event was simply a lark for me and one for which I offer no boast nor pride.

As to the event which had brought Walter and the Feds together, here begins another tale. Almost everyone in my neighborhood was broke, or nearly broke, most of the time. It was this lack of funds which prompted Walter, and another friend Billy, to drive down to the Mexican border from New York City in Walter’s souped-up Ford and pick up some heavy weight of marijuana. Their intent was to act natural going through customs and then head back up to NY and distribute their wares and make some serious money. Inflation being what it is, I remember a pound of good Mexican weed going for about $125. I’d have no idea what they paid for it in Mexico but they must’ve been happy because no sooner had they unloaded the stuff, they were deciding once again to head back down towards Mexico way.

This time though, things didn’t go exactly as planned and the customs agent ordered their car off to the side for inspection, and that’s when Walter gunned it and sped out of that border crossing at a high rate of speed. Surprisingly, they got away from the border but those two assholes decided to spend the night at a motel without stashing the goods in the brush to be picked up at a later date. A foolish move on their part which eventually put them into the clutches of the federal authorities who prosecuted them and eventually gave them each a tax bill of one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars, based upon the projected retail value of street sales. In other words, they charged them tax on an illegal substance which they hadn’t even sold yet! So yeah, Walter was on the hook to the feds which made me wonder about those pro war demonstrations that he seemed so actively involved in.

Anyway, by this time me and Walter were fairly friendly and I was sure he thought well of me. I could see though, that he was troubled by all that debt and the impending futility of his entire life. Walter at that time was going with a girl named Patsy Velasquez who, by the way, had the finest J-Lo ass in the entire projects. It should also be noted that sometimes, when life has got you down you might have a tendency to latch onto the affections of love, which is the only thing in this crazy mixed up world that really matters, in my opinion.

Well, Walter loved Patsy, and I’m sure he was clinging to this relationship for all it was worth. But life together for them was tumultuous, and it seemed to me that their time together was ill-fated and would not last.

It was a surprise for me one night to get a call from Patsy asking me to come over to her apartment. Walter had overdosed, had committed suicide, and she was in a bad way, and would I come over and wait for the guys from the morgue to come by and take Walter away?

Surely, I could not turn Patsy down and I went over to her apartment only to find Walter, who had fallen back on his chair and into a baby carriage. His dead eyes were half open and he wore a pair of sunglasses which were low slung on his nose, thereby giving a full view of his blank, half lidded stare.

I don’t know if any of you readers here have ever waited with a friend for the guys from the morgue to show up, but me and Walter watched our final TV shows together until they came with a big black zippered bag. Soon the two of them stuffed Walter’s remains into that bag, and then they were gone. Simple as that, into a rubber bag, and then you’re gone.

I went to a Jewish funeral after that and I wore my first yarmulke. I was sure that the Rabbi was staring directly at me, but towards what purpose I’m not sure. Was he thinking that he should address me, Walter’s friend? Was he thinking that here is one of the goyims that led Walter to take that wrong turn in life? Or was he being benevolent in such a manner that he was warning me, Walter’s friend, that here too is your fate, if you don’t straighten up kid.

I did straighten up, and I survived. And while so many other young lives were cut short, I am still here and am finally able, to share with you Walter’s forgotten name.

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