Part Six: Billy
Okay, who is Billy? Well, consistent with the other characters in this story, Billy is not his real name; in fact Billy has had several names that he’s used that are other than the name on his real birth certificate, which is, believe it or not, Melvin Tennabruso. As I said, or at least inferred, Billy had gone by a number of different names since shedding the (he thought) hideous names that he was given at birth, in baptism, communion and confirmation. As a kid he wanted to be called Frosty the Snowman. He once saw a name on a wooden pencil: Mandarin #2 and wanted that one, he tried on ‘Esquire’ and that didn’t stick. He tried a one-word name of: ‘Face’ but nobody wanted to call him that, especially in the pool hall. Jack Frost, Brady Brady, Charles Wright (he dreamed of “Sir Charles” but that was also Teflon), Aaron Presley (Elvis’ middle name), Philip Mann (it was easier at the dry cleaners) and then he was Thomas Katt for a while, before stumbling onto Billy the Kid.
Well, he couldn’t use Billy D. Kidd (too obvious) so he settled on William Price, it had a nice ring and he could call himself Billy Price; his inside joke about the last name of Price was that he figured that everybody had one, a price that is. So his running joke was, when introducing himself, he would say: “The name’s William Price, everybody has one… but you can call me Billy”. He took great pains to introduce himself as often as he could; it never failed to bring a smile to his face. Not many other people got it, though.
Mel was raised in Hoboken, New Jersey where his folks moved when he was seven, much to their shame. His family for years had lived in New York City, in tenements and slums, and when gentrification reared its ugly head in their neighborhood (Greenwich Village) the poor people were the first to go. And being his family was racially and ethnically biased (They didn’t like anyone that wasn’t Italian or Irish and certainly no one that wasn’t Catholic), they had nowhere to go except New Jersey, which to them was like living in exile.
Mel and his friends and young fellow big city refugees tried to make the streets of Hoboken as dangerous as possible, just so that they could feel at home. They formed gangs, vandalized property, got into fights and stole things. They were the first kids to smoke cigarettes and drop out of school. They were mean to anyone that they found weaker than themselves. They were sneaky, crafty, brutal and without exception, cowardly. They bullied young girls into ‘putting out’.
Melvin being a typical Irish Italian Catholic became an altar boy and did his time at religious instructions; he was given (in his estimation) hideous middle names; one at baptism and another for confirmation. He felt that his family hated him and wanted only to humiliate him. His old man beat him regularly but that was no big deal; his father would get drunk and beat everybody he came in contact with: his wife, his kids and other drunks. Mel didn’t make no federal case about his beatings; he knew that someday he’d be out of that place called home or big enough to kick his old man’s ass, if for no other reason than the way his father mistreated his mother, whom he loved like a saint.
His chance came soon enough. One night Mel TennisShoes (as he was called on the street) and Tommy TooTall broke into the neighborhood pawn shop to rob anything that they could put their hands on. They broke in through the skylight. They dressed in black and put shoe polish on their faces just like in that Robert Mitchum movie. They brought a rope that they lowered themselves into the shop with and started looking around with flashlights that they held in their teeth. They made the mistake by pulling the rope in after them.
The silent alarm went off and they couldn’t get out; the front door was barred and the skylight was too high to reach. The police sat outside and laughed at them while they waited for the owner to show up with the keys to let them in to nab the two seventeen year old amateurs.
Their mothers cried at the trial, their fathers got drunk and got into a fight, the other kids laughed at how stupid they were getting caught like that. “Yeah, dere dey wuz, like rats in a trap, stoopid reeeelie fockin’ stoopid.”
The judge gave them a choice (some cherse!); off to the big house or volunteer for the armed services. Thomas James Joseph Tatarino volunteered for the U.S. Navy and Melvin Alfred Aloysius Tennabruso chose the Marine Corps. Tommy spent four years drinking and getting laid, he did as little work as possible and squeaked by with an Honorable Discharge. Mel (call me Billy) spent the first two years getting his ass kicked and the next two working at a recruiting center in New Orleans.
After completing his basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Private First Class Tennabruso considered himself a trained killer; unfortunately he had his father’s propensity for not being able to hold his liquor and lose his temper, so Mel (call me Billy) would regularly go off base, off sobriety and off his rocker and get into fights that he never won. One day a fellow Marine, Deanjelo Dagostino (call me Dino) took him aside, talked sense into him and inspired him to lay off the booze. Actually, Dino introduced him to drugs, which they both liked a hell of a lot better than whiskey. Drugs did what you told them to do, either waking you up or putting you to sleep; they invariably made you feel good about yourself. Billy and Dino became fast friends and Dino taught him the two cardinal sins of drugs; one: don’t get caught with them and two: use just enough and no more. Both sins were punishable by dishonor, which both buddies feared more than death. Dino was from New Orleans and he was conniving, wheedling and manipulating a transfer to the recruiting station there, where a couple of the guys he knew were due to be discharged soon. He planned on getting his good buddy Billy to be transferred with him and it did come to pass that they did serve out the rest of their time in New Orleans, were discharged together and settled down for a spell. Dino and Billy shared an apartment in the French Quarter even while they were in the service of their country. They liked to troll the quarter at night looking for women that were a little worse for the wear of strong drink and ergo easy pickings.
Pat O’Brien’s bar was a favorite because it was raucous, loud and made a drink called a “Hurricane’ there, whose sole existence was to get people fucked up. Billy and Dino would hang around the bar until they spotted likely semi-disabled women, and having the advantage of being sober (albeit high) they made their moves and culled them from the herd for some hanky-panky at their place which was only two blocks away. Let it be known here, that the good times that the boys enjoyed was by mutual, although inebriated, consent. The buddies were well versed in that special point of weakness that came before moods became maudlin, and generally, a good time was had by all.
Billy had turned into a good looking man and as these things went, having doubted his attractiveness for most of his life, was insatiable in his lust for conquest. He often wandered off on his own picking up shop girls, waitresses and even a librarian or two. But, Billy was having sex, he was not making love; and this, shame that it was, would not occur to him until much later in his life.