Monday, November 7, 2016

Old Joe Yankovec’s Pigeon Grill-out (1960-‘61)

As I walked under the bridge as a young lad, perhaps thirteen or fourteen (1960-’61) I could hear the cooing of the pigeons in the iron rafters. It was a summer’s afternoon, sunlight blinded my eyes some, and I was with several of the Cayuga Street Gang members. We moved on into the underbelly of the bridge, not far ahead was the underground sewer system of St. Paul, Minnesota. There about in sections were old wine bottles, beer cans, and weeds growing out of the bare earth among the bird and dog shit, and human fasces, flies and mosquitos. I scaled at times the iron and steel looking train tracks, pacing and waiting for the boys to shoot the pigeons with their slingshots.
       All about the walls were written on with colored paints, white chalk or dark charcoal, some drawings, for the most part just plain old graffiti. Rats scuttled along the beams, and upper side walls, some squeezed into gnawed-out holes. I watched it all with an infinite curiosity on my face. The gang wanted to kill pigeons—as often they did with their slingshots, or just throwing plain rocks at them for practice, but today it was for a different reason. Old Joe Yankovec had told the boys, told me and all of us: “Instead of killing them for fun and leaving them for the rats, bring them back, I’ll cook them up and we’ll have an outdoor grill…”
       Well, we all knew he was famous throughout the tri-state area as being the top chef, he was for many years (and might have been at time) top chef of the St. Paul, Hotel, a four star hotel, the only four star hotel in St. Paul. Well who could refuse that offer!

I woke up the next morning, stepped out into the heat of that summer’s day, —awaiting to help escort the gang with those pigeons—knowing good and well I couldn’t kill any, but nonetheless, I was an accomplice, I was apprehensive of what Mr. Yankovec would say. I mean, perhaps he was just kidding us boys.
       To be frank, just killing the birds unnerved me. And so we set off.

I do not exaggerate when I say, that evening when he grilled all those birds in the backyard of his house, by whatever means he used, or spices, I can only give applause, for they were delicious, and each and every one of us, along with my friend, Lorimar, Joe’s son whom I hung around with, we all ate heartily.