Thursday, July 16, 2015

Requiem for a Gang (Donkeyland, the Cayuga Street Gang, of the 50s & 60s)

The Cayuga Street Hooligans, they were a small and determined group of kids, a gang, sort of, which tried to seize life early on, and surrendered to their youth, their vices, prerogatives, and scratched where it didn’t itch, and became donkeys so the police referred to us, and referred to our neighborhood by calling it Donkeyland, a location within the city’s limits, that being, the North End of the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. We being more like a bowl-full of wild crickets, the main area being Cayuga Street. Now some fifty-years later, their prototypes have advanced into a drug related neighborhood, more of a lynching, pathless gang! The old gang has of course stepped down to law-and-order side of life, for the most part, now resting as if in a kind of comatose state. And many of the old ones are gone, but I can still remember at least, in my time, we all felt safe in our homes, no longer is this possible with the new breed! The new ones are bloodless, and darker souled, and axe-minded, as if insurgents sprawled in various corners, trying to kick away the old locks.
       As for us, we were loyal to one another, there was an unspoken code.  No one disrespected anyone’s parents at any time. No one stole from an affiliate; usually the stronger would stand up for the weaker, if it was someone outside the gang doing the winning in fight, and Larry the boxer seen to that, more often than not.
 ·  ·  ·
The era has passed, but it didn’t pass without old lady Stanley, who lived next door to the Old Russian’s house sitting on her patio witnessing it all, she lived long in her old age into her 90s.   So old she was, it was hard for her to open the heavy door leading out onto her patio.  Engulfed in her house, watching Mouse, and Gunner racing up and down Cayuga Street, as if it was a drag strip, in their 1940-Fords. She was a fragile wisp of a woman. And the kids jeering at her with their Rock and Roll, Elvis songs, and often times I’d myself sing them on a guitar, as we proceeded to do whatever we were doing; a contempt for possible despoilers, and Larry punching out the cops on top of Indian’s Hill, and that was not all. Although Howie the cop, was respected, he was the only police officer that was in our neighborhood. The only safe persons that didn’t belong in the neighborhood who were left alone were: the mail carriers, the milkman, the bread peddlers, and one black man whom nobody knew where he lived but walked down Mississippi Street, onto Cayuga Street, who had befriended the Old Russian, whose two grandsons were gang members, thus he got safe passage.
       The neighborhood was of the Irish, Polish, Russian, German, Anglo-Saxon, and Native American (Ojibwa) stock. 
       It gives the impression for the most part, all the girls in the neighborhood married all the boys in the neighborhood. They were like to like. A few exceptions. Most went to Washington High School, at one time or another. The gang was well-known as for being the Jackson Street boys, to the Rice Street boys, whom were friendly with one another. Rice Street being on one side of Oakland Cemetery, and Jackson on the other. A bizarre twist at any corner of any night.

 The empty lot in the summers, —the weeds and grass got as tall cornstalks; old man Brandt, who lived alongside the empty lot cut some of the grass and weeds down some and got a few of the boys to do the rest, and thus, the gang had a place to play baseball during the day, as if for once without alcohol; yet at night it turned into a drinking area. It was one adjoined breathe within the gang, and for a number of summers it was somewhat kept up. It wasn’t until they finished the game often before they drank. Perhaps it was the catalyst, and sometimes everyone played the game fast to get it done with quickly, as to get the drinking cycle started, specifically on a keg of beer, where everyone had pitched in to buy it, and Big Bopper did the buying at the nearby liquor store—; fifty-years later that empty lot has vanished, leaving nothing but a dark asphalt parking space for cars, where seldom any cars are ever parked.   
       Most of the houses are torn down now on Cayuga Street, and half the gang has passed on. The 21st Century teenager, from Cayuga Street over to Buffalo Street, or Granite Street, or Acker Street, Sims, and all streets surrounding, and connecting to Cayuga Street, it isn’t anything like it used to be— Rice School, on top of the hill overlooking Cayuga Street, is gone too.

As I start my story, let’s look at the human faces if only semi-consciously noticed, and let the mind pick out the inexplicable actions of the members, the vital circumstances, motives, dramas, experiences of this tiny world that only a dreamer can show from old secrets and dreams; depicted as best the author can do, and remember, in a striking way I hope. 
       Perhaps the style sometimes a little careless, tending to give a little garrulousness to the whole picture. On the other hand, there are only a few escapades here, not that I couldn’t have written a 600-page version of Donkeyland and its gang or even a set of books on it, for out of my 48-books, Donkeyland is in many segments of them, this is the first direct try at pointing it out as a main item, Donkeyland and its inhabitants, on its own! From my era. But I sense there is no need for a larger book it is just for posterity I do what I am now doing, writing to preserve a few of those lighthearted days. An observation on the life of a certain group of people, at a certain period of time, to step beneath the surface of their lives, and so this book is dedicated to them. For Donkeyland is like a wheel of many colors, and fragments of mid-America of the late 1950s and ‘60s, which carries the inescapable conviction of reality. There is more realism to the surface than the eye meets.   Dennis L. Siluk