Sunday, August 24, 2014
Recapitulations ((…or, “Requiem for a Gang”) (Part II))
(Donkeyland, the Cayuga Street Gang, of the 50s & 60s) in Poetic Prose)
“I was born among them, I have lived among them, and though I have strayed away from them, they come back into my memories: after all, I was of their kind! “Dlsiluk
Misfortune? Fortuity, luck, chance: a gang—twenty or thirty kids—,
Twenty-five, no fifty years later legend would begin to affirm, and still be there to affirm it, that Donkeyland, the Cayuga Street Gang were the
hooligans that came out of the gang before them, the Mississippi Rats themselves; now of course left behind like a pong, a scent, a kind of huge
bizarre spirit—at one time perhaps even humorous and terrifying, they
were as if a settlement on the North End side of the city.
Jackson Street, off Sycamore Street all the way down along the Old
Oakland Cemetery’s iron fence—that dates back to the late 1850s, the oldest cemetery in St. Paul—to its very end, by what was once called: “The
Dew Drop In”, or the street called Maryland. Now Cayuga Street, fallen, blundered into the unnoticed, and long forgotten, the lost whimsical times
of the 21st Century. Desolate, isolated, almost seemingly impossible to have dreamt, since those long lost days of the Mississippi Rats, and even
the last gang, the Cayuga Street Gang, ruffians, now dead or scattered by time, and replaced or reduced to unscrupulous robbers and thieves and
drug addicts, more or less, and more than less, a dysfunctional unchartered gang, in a neighborhood, which really is no longer a
neighborhood would never have existed, nor needed or felt it needed to belong to anything else, other than itself: at which our time, my time, not
this time, it was a knitted brotherhood (one for all and all for one), more so than the University’s fraternities, closer anyhow, and a forcible size
group at that: a tiny society, within a society.
Hence, here still, is where the remnants live, those that never got away,
enclosed once and forevermore, by civilization, where its very intactness, its presence, still will not let go of that lock and key, prove its
lack of need to be part of something bigger.
When they tore down all the houses on Cayuga Street, a symbol of security
for the city, it was a gesture that the lock was broken, but some still had that die-hard allegiance without humiliation, respect without flattery,
dying in that one lone bar now, that used to be two lone bars, on
opposite corners,— the one lone bar renamed, no longer Bram’s.
There they wait, no longer bandits, simple waiting until the messenger of death comes; old and gray-haired, not that they would object, but by simple instinct, would prefer it to be after a good long drunk before they’d meet their Maker.
Which would probably be the first suggestion sold to Death, if indeed Death asked: “Are you ready?”
And if Death should say: “Too bad, let’s go!”
They would contemplate consulting with one another over the monotonous
wooden bar, at that now one lone bar that used to be called Bram’s.
Yes, it was a small and determined neighborhood gang which tried to seize
life early on, and surrendered to their youthful lusts, and became race-horses, de caballos for a most worthless piece of street called Cayuga, in a
neighborhood called by the police: ‘Donkeyland,’ whose legend says: held the ravishers at bay until they got too old, because there was new
names and new faces also, in the neighborhood, faces so new they were to invent a new era, more people, no loyalty, no honor, which the
old neighborhood had—still had, and would never let go of, perhaps that was why they were, had: solidarity; the new clique, perhaps we can call them the bandits recognized: not so much drunkards now but drug criminals: prototypes of other drug related neighborhoods;
more like lynching gangs!
Yes, the uproar died from the old gang, and law-and-order took over rapid
in the city, and the comatose residents were no longer comatose, but
The old ones now long gone, but with the old ones at least everyone in the
neighborhood felt safe in their homes with the old gang, this was no
longer a possibility!
The new ones were reckless, bloodless, darker, and axe-minded. Insurgents sprawled in various corners, trying to kick away the old lock. Yes, it is gone!
· · ·
It was gone, the era passed, but it didn’t pass without old lady Stanley,
who lived next door to the Old Russian’s house witnessing it all, or almost all of it, the era, the generation; so old was she, it was hard for her
to open the heavy door leading out onto her patio, when that generation nearly ended, and she nearly ended with it, and she was
betrayed into believing those kids she saw grow up, six and seven and ten and now fifteen and twenty, would turn into something more rational,
but it didn’t happen—not then anyhow, and it didn’t take anyone else
long either to see it was not going to happen, anytime soon: watching the kids at a dead run, start running and reappearing wherever, from the police, usually running to the top of Indian’s Hill, from the patio front
screened-in porch to the kitchen window in the back of her house, she saw it all, all the dead running, and dead stopping; --engulfed in her house,
watching Mouse and Gunner racing up and down Cayuga Street, in their 1940-Ford’s, as if it was a racetrack; a fragile wisp of a woman,
ageless, thinned haired, who looked too frail even to approach them, let alone scold them, yet she did now and then, and not only them but their
parents when she got annoyed, and the kids jeering at her with their Rock and Roll, Elvis songs, gestures with their lips and new style of
hairdos, hairstyles, whatever you want to call them, coiffures, and proceeded to do whatever they were doing, a contempt for possible
despoilers, and of course there was the puncher, they called ‘Lou’ who on occasion, punched out the cops on top of Indian’s Hill, and that was not
all: he was the neighborhood protector in a way, in that his reputation
proceed him; and should one lose a fight to an outsider, Lou was there to
even the score, that is—in the neighborhood’s favor…
It was not even an ultimatum, it was a decree in the neighborhood, and the
only safe persons that didn’t belong in the neighborhood who were
safe, were: the mail carriers, the milkman, the bread peddlers, and one
black man whom nobody knew where he lived but walked down Mississippi Street, and met the Old Russian Bear, whom would walk with him up
Cayuga Street, and because the Old Russian’s grandchildren were gang members, the Old Russian was safe, and because the Old Russian
was safe so was the black man, and of course Mrs. Stanley whose husband died in 1959, worked for the railroad for 40-years, died at 66,
Like a weightless pigeon, or fossil of a bird, not a vulture or pigeon, a
sparrow, a hawk-sparrow if there is such a thing; that was the only reason the Blackman was allowed to walk up and down the street without
It was an Irish, Polish, Russian, German, Anglo-Saxon neighborhood, cut
out of fleeing madmen from the 1920s, and it was going to stay that
way for a generation, that generation.
And there were the girls —all right, damn it! …we almost forgot them, but
they belonged to the gang, also; they never realized its seriousness, and married one another, because who else would they marry? …everyone
knew one another, and thought perhaps humorous, —and most
everyone went to Washington High School, a few to other schools nearby but that was the primary one, and that was on Rice Street, on the
other side of the Cemetery, Oakland Cemetery, where the Cayuga Street thugs, in the hot summers jumped over the iron fence for a ghostly
and go-getting, on-gong, party with the spirits, both alcohol and whomever: “Yes—I’ll marry you, and quick too, before the price goes up!”
was not far-off of the answer to the proposals of marriage in the neighborhood; it was like the men blew on their foghorn and the women came: wore a cord around their necks that said: Sandy belongs to Roger,
and Nancy belongs to Sammy, and Jackie, well she had a few she belonged to; and Carol belong to Rockwater, and the other Carol belonged
to Mike, and Judy belonged to Bill, and Mouse belong to Jackie, but not sure if it was the other way around, and Jennie belonged to Larry, and Chick belonged to nobody but everybody (he dated Kathleen who died in a car accident; and Jackie, and Nancy Pit…); and there was Pizza Face,
everyone wanted a night with her, but no more than that, unless they remained drunk, and had a paper sack to put over her head;
And Reno whose name was really Steve, who was the fat man of the neighborhood took whomever was available at the time;
And everyone knew there was no limit to the fantastic rotation this group of
girls and guys could take, a bizarre twist at any corner of any night, — nor did they rest in the afternoons, or the next day, they’d play cards at Hino’s house, drink all day, and Nancy would make her soup and half a
dozen guys would eat, and a dozen children between the two would eat, and Jerry would fall to sleep, take a two-hour siesta, and kick out the
guys, and they’d return when Jerry woke up, and everyone
would look at everyone else for: Who’ll pay for the next drunk?
—it would be just like that, day after day, month after month, and it got to
be into the years— ; that meant, Big Ace would probably pay one dollar and drink twenty-beers to fill his six-foot five frame to its very top, and its 250-pounds of weight and Jerry Hino ten-dollars, and if Doug was
there, he’d have a half pint of whiskey in his pocket and offer that up as his sacrifice, and Chick would bring in a twelve pack of Hamm’s beer, and
play the guitar: some of Rick Nelson’s songs and Elvis’ songs and Johnny Cash’s songs, and entertain, and who didn’t put into the kitty,
would be debtors for next week’s drunk; and if there was no room in the Hino house, they’d go to those two corner bars that would be one
corner bar in due time, the one that would change its name a few times, the home away from home, the one that was patronized, from the cradle to
And then a train load of cases of beer and whiskey would come in, and it
would have federal seals on the doors, but it never even mattered at what price they entered that caboose, they’d break it open, and carry the
cases the distance it took—some pretty heavy, in the middle of the night through rain or snow or slush, or the summer’s dry heat, and nobody
would be the wiser to whom it was, other than Mrs. Stanley, if indeed she was out on that porch, at that insane hour;
Anyhow, thereafter, —get fossilized that night with it; they had indestructible bodies back then; matter of fact,
once they saw the signs on the cars they didn’t even have to discuss it—it was like candy sticking out of a big bay window, to a toddler—and
since they wanted nothing else out of life, least of all, sobriety, they
went for it like a worm on a hook.
No one was the official leader of these so called raids, but whoever was the
thirstiest would seemingly be the most tuned into where the boxcar
raid would take place, thus, he was the ordained chief for that night.
And of course old lady Stanley saw it all (of cause she did), and what she
didn’t see, wasn’t hard to imagine. If she was up at that insane hour.
On the other side of her house was another family of kids who belonged to
the neighborhood, one imprisoned at St. Cloud.
And across the street was the old German, who had two sons, Roger and
Ronnie—Ronnie and Chick often went girl hunting in Ronnie’s midnight-black 1960-Chevy, up and down White Bear Avenue—and there
was a daughter too, too young to be involved with the boys.
And old lady Stanley saw all, she was kind of in the center of things.
And she lived to be ninety-three.
She seemed to be invisible at times but never flimsy in her eagle eyeing of
what was going on.
Frail and child-size, she fed her squirrels and birds and tended to her
garden, like her husband did; or if he wasn’t attending the garden he
was washing his 1959, Rambler, kept it up like new, and when he died
in 1960, I doubt the car had more than 500-miles on its speedometer.
Ten years later, old lady Stanley gave it to her son.
And so, as she did all these incidentals, she also watched the defacement
of the street, its generation, pass as if an act of Congress said, leave
them be, they’re not worth the trouble.
Matter-of-fact, jail them all or drafted them all—more or less, is what the
government inferred, and seemingly did, because every six months someone from the neighborhood disappeared, ending up in that worthless
war and country called, Vietnam, a name only people heard of a few years prior, and nobody knew where it was, and when they knew—heard it
was in Asia—could never pinpoint it out on a map, until they returned from the war that was not called a war, but a conflict!
Yes, that’s exactly how it was too.
· · ·
The empty lot in the summers, —the weeds and grass got as tall as tall
cornstalks; old man Brandt, who lived alongside the empty lot, cut some of the grass and weeds down and got a few of the boys to do the
rest, and thus, the gang had a place to play ball, as if for once without alcohol, it was one adjoined breath within the gang, and for a number of
summers it was somewhat kept up.
It wasn’t until they finished the game, did they start the drinking.
Perhaps it was the catalyst, and sometimes everyone played the game fast
to get it done with quickly, not to finish it but to get it out of the way knowing there was a keg of beer nearby—yes, get the game behind them,
and so they’d obliterate the game somehow—sabotage it, as if they had also known in that first hour, at the first hour’s end, or near its end, it would
be enough, and they all knew this from the beginning.
That empty lot, or field whatever you want to call it which was really about
four acres square, which in fifty-years later would have vanished, leaving nothing but a parking space for cars, although there were seldom any cars
to be seen in that dark asphalt, parking lot, had changed to a park, but there were no kids on Cayuga Street anymore, when that happened, in the
1980s, and then it changed again in the ‘90s, and at the turn of the new century, it completely faded away to legend, short-lived, from the 70s
Had you asked the gang, or what is left of the gang, today: back in the 50s
and 60s, this was unforeseen; even Indian’s Hill, with its woods
was turned into an inevitable dust scattered lumpy plateau;
And what wasn’t lumps, was scattered throughout Minnesota:
who could have ever prophesied that?
A whole hill demolished, trees and all.
Where is it? Where did they put it? Over on Buffalo Street?
Or Granite Street?
Or Acker Street?
If you were to look for it, surrounding all the streets, around Cayuga Street,
it isn’t any place to be seen— so it must have drifted into the far-off fields or grasslands of Minnesota; who’s to say?
But on top of that hill, Indian’s Hill, back in those far-off years, the
decades of the 50s and 60s, and early 70s, is where the devil sat, pondering, deliberating, and told his cohorts, ‘Kill the body, and the head
will die,’ and they all believed him and he himself believed himself because it had always worked, it was taken for granted, why would it be
any other way, but everyone in Donkeyland, kept on drinking with dead-bodies, —this neighborhood was different, and to the surprise of old
Nick—the neighborhood laughed back at him, saying: “Wrong again!” Although it didn’t bother him any, his reputation preceded him.
The more I think about it, the gang knew one of the devil’s tricks—
unconsciously that is—boredom, which is really an affliction, and accounts for many disorders and the gang was never bored.
This of course was an irrecoverable loss for old Satyr! Pride comes before destruction, and accordingly, he lost a few admirers on this motif, of
having his followers always thinking he’s right.
But he won, I suppose you could say, with flattery and even detestation, that cripples the mind just as well, and so, in capturing a few members for life, to sell their souls, Et cetera…
He who lives in the eternal afternoon, left Cayuga Street;
no longer inspired, no longer aroused by glimpses into its future because he perchance knew it had no future, energetically ablaze
with the work he and his imps, his cohorts, his henchmen, had already done,
Creating a horde of alcoholics at such young ages, and having half
the neighborhood incarcerated at one time or another,
Now smoking dope, and selling drugs, providing all the forms of human obsession he could think of, this was his legacy for Donkeyland…
Lugubriously, I had to leave the neighborhood. Apprehension, didn’t sink
into me, as I presupposed it might, although, jointly with my subconscious mind, uneven thoughts did occur: could I survive on my own?
But I had a premonition of favor, I’d make it one-way or another.
I even rolled my cigarettes for a while, tobacco and paper at hand, to
conserve on money, to get myself ready for the journey to San Francisco, this would not be like my previous short trips: I was one with
whose monolingual dictionary of ideas centered on: —do or die!
And I wanted to learn Karate, from the famous Master, ‘The Cat!’
It was as if I needed to atone for all those short trips I had previously took,
and did very little with: to Seattle, and Omaha, and North and South Dakota.
And so I would leave the thug-like neighborhood called Donkeyland, with a
And life would thereafter never be the same of course.
But before I end this: ‘Requiem…’ or lament of my neighborhood, it was
something like this: when I returned thirty months later: sometimes you walk so long and so far, when you get to where you are going, until you get
to that one spot, it then dawns on you, and only then does it dawn on
you that you have walked it.
When I left the neighborhood, the gang, the two corner bars, heading to San Francisco: there I lived for a year;
And then on to Augsburg, West Germany for ten-months, and then to South Vietnam for eight-months more, not until I arrived back home at my mother’s house
where I would stay for a short while, did it dawn on me I had walked a
long ways, gone such a distance, that is to say, I had taken a thirty month journey, that was really thirty-six months… (if we add Mexico and North Dakota, and few other stop-offs)
For there I sat on the edge of my bed, looking out the window onto Cayuga
Street: it was as if I was on a somnambulate voyage.
I know now, should I walk back into that old neighborhood, I would developed into an alien to them—
I am too far removed.
Too many hundreds, if not thousands of books, opened books, have yelped and yawned between them and me.
Too many years and too many travels;
No, I can no longer return home, the old gang could never understand me—
As I have often thought this over.
All I can mutter is once I was a poor young tramp, a drunk, a roustabout, who felt the world was his city!
Now—more often than I care to mention—an intolerable old man, set in his ways, who eats chicken with his fingers yet, but that’s about it!
Yes, I am melancholy about this ‘Requiem’ or service of the dead:
Yes, when it comes to the old gang there is only unpretentiousness:
I have missed them somewhat, or is it those youthful years we can never return to?
So I give to them this poetic prose, this funeral service of the dead, for them, and for posterity!
No: 4507/8-3-2014 thru 8-23-2014
Note 1: Written for the posterity of the “Cayuga Street Gang” and Old Donkeyland.
Note 2: See part one in the book “Days” under “Recapitulations” (…or, “The Meatpacker’s Boy”)