Thursday, October 6, 2016
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 the 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. Too boot, our rules have invited in terrorists from the Middle East to keep everyone company.
As for us, we were loyal to one another, there was an unspoken code. No one disrespected anyone’s parents at any given 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 a fight, and Larry L., the puncher or 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 into old age, somewhere into her 90s, she seen it all come and go. Engulfed in her house most of those latter years, watching Mouse, and Gunner racing up and down Cayuga Street, as if it was a drag strip, in their 1940-Fords, what was she thinking, she knew them when they were just beginning their teenage years. Now 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 while play my guitar, we must have kept her up night and day. We proceeded to do whatever we were doing, without much regard for anyone, I suppose we were possible despoilers. And Larry L., the puncher would punch out the cops on top of Indian’s Hill, and that was not all.
The only cop that was respected was Howie the cop, he was the only police officer that was in our neighborhood that dared to get out of his car and talk to us guys. On the other hand, the only safe persons that didn’t belong in the neighborhood, were those 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 Street on the other side. A bizarre twist at any corner of any night.
The empty lot in the summers, —the weeds and grass got as tall as cornstalks; old man Brandt, who lived alongside the empty lot cut some of the grass and weeds down, got a few of the boys to do the rest of the work, 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 arena. 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 (who passed away recently) 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 can anyone see a parked car in that so called parking lot. To boot, most of the houses are torn down now on Cayuga Street, and half the gang has passed on.
Well, that’s how it was, once upon a time.
6-29-2015 /Reedited 10-2016