Fred Tomasello Jr. Guest Contributor
Editor’s Note: Fred Tomasello Jr. has contributed a number of stories to the Legacy Magazine. This piece is an excerpt from his book “West Tampa Stories” – a collection of memories from a hometown.
In May of 1959, I’m a 9th grader, and even though I’m 14 years old, access to a car is no problem. These are the days before social promotion, and Junior High School is 7th, 8th and 9th grades. If you don’t pass the 7th, you have to repeat the whole year. Many of my fellow classmates have repeated 7th grade once, twice, some even three times and it’s not unusual to have 17-year-olds in school waiting until they‘re 18 and can legally quit school to work full-time. Some already have part-time jobs and use school to catch up on their sleep. Some date and impregnate their younger female classmates. Most have fun just beating the crap out of us younger kids every day.
Weighing barely over a hundred pounds, my friends call me “Biddy” because my legs are so skinny. They compare me to the bright-colored baby chicks sold before Easter time, and when I come around, they make “peeo, peeo” sounds with their mouths. My hair is short and flat, as flat as my Dad can cut it. My soft, fine, hair never looks stiff like the brush-looking hair my friends sport.
Once, when I went to Angelo Rumore’s barber shop, I asked the barber to cut it extremely short and flat. Angelo refused.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because your head has too many lumps,” he replied.
Now I feel doubly embarrassed because not only is my flattop not as flat as everyone else’s, I wonder if they could see the lumps on my head. I’ve never heard of a barber refusing to cut someone’s hair short because of head lumps.
Even though I’m very skinny, wiry and strong for my size, I’m still no match for the majority of my schoolmates. Constant teasing gives me a sharp tongue and I can quickly embarrass others; however, that doesn’t stop them from teasing and harassing me mercilessly, even to the point where tears and fists begin to fly.
Since both my mother and I are color-blind, I often go to school with one navy blue sock and one black sock. My trousers never match my shirt and I often commit some other standard dress code violation that invites ridicule. My clothes are never new and are often torn from playing sports, wrestling or fighting with others—another tempting target for ridicule.
Taking my first public shower with other students after gym class is an eye-opening experience. Coach Urso mandates that everyone must buy a jockey strap to wear under our gym shorts. “A peanut and rubber band” he jeers and laughs. We also have to bring our own towel. The shower is mandatory – no excuses. Changing into gym shorts I use the wall locker door as a shield to hide behind. I quickly remove my underpants, step between the thin jockey straps, get tangled, stumble to my knees, recover and immediately pull my shorts up over my bare butt. Then we go outdoors for football, basketball, volleyball, or whatever sport is in season.
Afterwards, coming in all sweaty and dirty, getting naked and walking into the shower with others for the first time is a visual, cultural and physical shock. Most seventh graders my age have no pubic hair or body hair and our penises are tiny and thin. Those who are a bit overweight or chubby looked even worse because their penises are hiding under an awning of fat.
Then in come the 17-year-olds with their well-defined muscles, chest hair and pubic hair all thick and curly. Their huge penises, lolling limp and long, become semi-erect when they lather their crotch area with bars of soap to make foamy white suds. They love to wrap one hand around the base of their soapy penis, slide it up and flick a foamy white doughnut onto us younger guys and laugh.
One short guy, Joe Alvarez, always masturbates in the shower. His penis is huge, more than nine inches long and has a distinct curve to the left. Everyone calls him ‘Little-Joe.’ Since he always uses his left hand to jack off, we figure his penis adapted by curving to the left.
Coach Urso walks around with a wooden paddle and if he catches any of us pissing in the shower, he smacks that paddle on our bare butts, leaving a bright red welt, a perfect paddle imprint that includes small pink circles matching the air holes he drills near the end of the wooden paddle.
“Reduces wind resistance,” Coach Urso explains the holes. “When I swing real hard, I can make it whistle too.”
Little Joe jerks off in the corner of the shower, constantly looking over his left shoulder, left hand pounding his piston back and forth. When Coach Urso walks through the shower area, which he frequently does, Little Joe quickly raises both hands up to his head and makes believe he’s washing his hair. Then he turns his body slowly, keeping his back between Coach Urso’s eyes and his swollen pecker, now bobbing up and down, waiting for Coach to leave.
“Hey you guys, look here,” Little Joe announces, both hands behind his head, fingers interlaced. When anyone looks, he makes his dick bob up and down like a construction crane straining to lift a load. In the shower, we always give Little Joe and Coach Urso plenty of room. I pretend not to see him jacking off every day yet I secretly watch, excited by the possibility of Coach Urso catching him in the act. I also wonder if I’ll ever measure up, be a real man like Little Joe. I pray that my dick’ll someday grow that big.
Near the end of the school year, me and Tony Buggica convince Joe Castro, who has a car, to take us out throwing eggs. Tony is short, stocky, strong and brutal. He still combs his hair with a clear part on one side. Tony never gives up trying to train his hair into a pompadour with a duck-ass or DA in the back.
DA’s were the in thing for cool guys, flat tops for jocks or athletes, and Tony still wore what we called the “little boy” haircut. His face has huge cheeks always flushed red like he’d just been in a fight. When he does fight, which is often, he leads in with his face, his fists low, down by his waist. Tony lets you hit him several times before he throws vicious left and right hooks that are extremely punishing. When he speaks, spit flies out of his mouth and dribbles down both sides of his lip. He starts every sentence with, “Hey, man.” Always laughing and making fun of others, Tony is sometimes slow to realize when we’re making fun of him. Then his smile turns into an open gape. When he gets really pissed, his lips press tightly together, his eyes narrow into thin slits and his hands go down to his sides and ball into tight fists. Most of the time, Tony is a lot of fun. He loves to go out throwing eggs, firecrackers and cherry bombs.
Joe Castro is our perfect driver. Quiet and serious when sober, Joe wears glasses with thick black plastic frames that make him look like an egg-head honor student. He was the West Tampa Junior High’s quarterback in the 8th grade but is ineligible his 9th grade year because of his age. Joe’s a good driver and never lets the boisterous behavior going on in the car distract him. He drives a 1949 Ford with a flat-head six cylinder engine. When Joe revs up and pops the clutch, the back tires yelp. Then he speed-shifts into second and finally third gear, making the engine whine and strain.
Joe takes corners faster than most cars, slams into second gear, gas pedal to the floor and pops the clutch, spinning the rear tires. Every time he does this, Joe flashs a smile that quickly disappears into seriousness, as if his father is watching. Joe’s dad comes to every game and criticizes his every play, loud and insulting. Joe’s head and shoulders always slump when he hears his dad.
After telling Joe how much fun we have throwing eggs on foot, he decides to take us in his old grey Ford.When word gets around, over ten people want to go with us. We narrow it down to six because that’s what the car can hold without sitting on each other’s laps.
Richard Tribunella gets selected. Richard is short with thick, black, curly hair trained to flow back over his ears without sticking out, a perfect DA in the back. His pompadour on top is over three inches high. Instead of making him look taller, it gives him a black-haired Woody Woodpecker look. The front curl hangs high into the air and dangles in front of his forehead four inches away. His face, ravaged by severe acne, bleeds profusely after a fight, making him look like he loses even when he wins. Richard’s always ready to fight. His family moved to Tampa from somewhere around New York City and they talk different than we do.
On the first day of school, Richard’s prancing around like a little rooster at a cock fight. We overpower him, tie his belt to the flagpole chains and hoist him twenty feet into the air. He’s screaming. A huge crowd gathers as we try to lift him higher. We stop when the flag pole curves then bends in half, lowering Richard down just above the ground, suspended and swinging, butt in the air, cursing at us at the top of his lungs. We laugh and run away before teachers come out to let him down. Unfazed, Richard ignores our hazing, dishes out a lot of his own and we soon become friends.
Tony Buggica’s best friend, Sammy Villarosa is also picked. Sammy is about five-foot eight, stout and quiet. He lives next door to Tony and stays to himself most of the time. Sammy seems more mature than all of us and doesn’t participate in the daily teasing we do to each other. He’s always in the background, smiling and enjoying the interaction and he’s happy to go because he knows we’re gonna have fun.
The final person is Peter Lopez, the coolest guy in school. Pete is short, a little stocky, almost chubby, olive skinned, perfect pompadour and DA, hair never out of place and always sports a heavy gold chain with an engraved image of the Virgin Mary around his neck. Pete never wears tee shirts, preferring pullover shirts with the collar always turned up behind his neck. The smell of Old Spice aftershave lotion surrounds Pete for five feet. His Cadillac smells like Old Spice and he always keeps a bottle in the glove compartment, right next to his condoms. His room in his house smells like Old Spice, with several open bottles on top of his dresser and new packages inside his drawers. Pete has a round face, large cheeks, and small lips that are shaped like an archer’s bow. I often wonder, because his mouth is so small, if he uses a teaspoon for soup and children’s forks for other food. But, oh how the girls love those tiny lips and mouth. When we go to a dance, my friends and I greet girls with a hello or a handshake. Not Pete. A big hug and a kiss, right on the mouth as we stare in jealous fascination.
Pete’s dad is always home and when we ask why he never works like the rest of our dads, Pete says his dad is a big shot in the dock workers union. The double garage of their house has been converted to a small boxing gym with a speed bag and a heavy bag suspended from the rafters with chains. Pete’s brother, Pico, was a boxer and is also active in the union with the dad. They all drive Cadillacs, keeping them outside the garage.
One morning, Pico gets into his car, turns the key, and the Cadillac explodes, blowing off both his feet at the knees. After that we never asked about Peter’s family any more and I stayed away from his house.
Pete’s girlfirend, Maria, is the most beautiful girl in school. Maria has long black hair, black eyes, a beautiful figure, dresses well, and is very nice, even to egg-heads, jerks, and people like me. She’s taller than Pete and we marvel how he gets such beautiful women to kiss him and even more.
Maria broke up with Pete over some argument and when Pete heard we were going out throwing eggs, he came to us with a special request. He would buy the eggs if we would bomb Maria’s house. We have to deny that Pete went with us or had anything to do with it. He gives us the same excuse for not taking his Cadillac. Maria would recognize it. Of course, we agree with Pete’s plan because eggs are about twenty-five cents a dozen, very expensive to someone like me whose allowance is twenty-five cents a week.
Friday evening finally comes and we pile into the car. Joe Castro is driving, Peter Lopez riding shotgun and Richard Tribunella is between them, his tall Woody Woodpecker hair whipping left and right, excited as he follows the conversations. In the back seat, Sammy Villarosa is behind the driver, I’m in the middle and Tony Buggica is on my right. We leave the parking lot and plan to go to a grocery store that stays open late on Friday nights to get the eggs. Then we’re off to Ybor City and Maria’s house.
I have one cherry bomb that I was saving for a special occasion just like this. Cherry bombs are so powerful they could blow both ends of a metal mailbox completely off. Once we put a cherry bomb under an empty tomato paste can and the blast peeled the can into four pieces like a banana, spinning it high into the air like a lawnmower blade. Cherry bombs have wire fuses that, once lit, cannot be put out. You could flush a lit cherry bomb down a toilet and it would still explode, destroying the fixture and spewing water in every direction. We heard one guy lost three fingers from a cherry bomb so, when we throw them, we don’t waste any time. As soon as the fuse lights, we toss it. The fuse, however, could be tricky because they’re covered with a light coating of wax. When you hold the match to it, the wax ignites and quickly burns down towards the cherry bomb’s body. This causes tremendous fear. People often throw the bomb prematurely and they don’t go off. It’s cowardly, embarrassing, expensive and stupid to toss a cherry bomb at someone and then not have it go off. When the fuse properly ignites, it hisses and spews smoke like a small rocket. From that instant, you have about six or seven seconds to toss it, much like a hand grenade. So I pull the cherry bomb out of my pocket.
“Hey, you guys, I’ve got a cherry bomb. Let’s throw it at somebody!”
Everyone in the car becomes silent.
Tony Buggica, “Hey man, yeah, let’s find somebody walking and throw the cherry bomb at ’em. Yeah.”
“I thought we were going out throwing eggs,” Joe Castro says, adding quickly, “OK, let’s do it. Who’s got matches? Do you need the cigarette lighter?”
“I’ve got matches,” I say, “Tony can light it, I’ll hold it and I’ll throw it out the window. Man, this is gonna be fun.”
We turn off Columbus Drive and drive down some back streets until we see a guy walking on the sidewalk. Joe slows the car. I hold the cherry bomb in my right hand, and Tony strikes the match and holds it to the tip of the fuse. Peter looks over his left shoulder, lips in a small ‘o.’
Richard Tribunella can’t decide which way to look and strains, first over his right shoulder, then over his left. Joe watches the road and Sammy stares down at my hand, his eyes glittering like a sparkler’s lit inside. The guy walking on the sidewalk glances at our car, notices that we’ve slowed down, and sees the match flame illuminating our faces. He stops walking and stares, puzzled by six guys in one car, all looking down into the back seat.
Tony, holding the match, begins to laugh. His whole body shakes up and down. So does the match. I hold the fuse in the flame, moving the cherry bomb up and down and and then I start laughing too. Villarosa, to my left, doesn’t laugh, but I can see his eyes gleam with excitement. Joe alternates looking at the road and then back at us. Peter’s fixated by the flame, and Woody Woodpecker’s hair whips left and right.
First, I get the false light and my heart pounds. The wax burns down to where the fuse is glued to the cherry bomb’s body. I’m not laughing anymore. I fight my fear and the strong urge to throw it now. I force my hand to hold still, keep the fuse steady in the match flame’s yellow fire. Finally, a burst of sparks, a hissing sound and a steady spew of smoke and sparks. I elevate the lit cherry bomb up near the roof of the Ford and twelve eyeballs are riveted to the sight. The only sound is the Ford‘s flat-head six, idling down the road. After waiting an extremely long two seconds, I whip the cherry bomb across my body, directly in front of Sammy’s chest, and towards the open window. All eyes follow the flame. The cherry bomb strikes the center post between the front and back door windows. Fiery sparks fly. The cherry bomb bounces back down onto the floor boards beneath our feet.
“Shit!” Joe Castro screams, “get that fucking thing outta my car!”
“Pick it up, quick!” Peter yells.
Tribunella’s head is whipping around so fast, his movement’s a blur. I’m amazed his neck doesn’t snap like one of Nana’s chickens when she kills it for dinner. All three of us in the back seat get the same idea at the same time. We begin stomping our feet without looking down, afraid the bomb’ll explode. We each stomp left, right, front and back, pounding on each others feet trying to put out the cherry bomb. I don’t know who started screaming first but now all six of us are screaming at the top of our lungs.
The car fills with thick smoke. A loud ringing sound shrills my ears. I’m in a silent movie. People’s lips are moving, but I hear no voices. Arms, legs and hands are thrashing wildly, eyes shocked wide open in fear as we stumble out of the car, coughing, choking and cursing. Porch lights come on. We clear our lungs, rub our eyes and look back at the car. The back floorboard is burning, flames a foot high. Joe Castro shields his face with his forearm and pulls out a burning burlap sack, slams it down on the street and stomps the fire out.
The guy on the sidewalk, our intended victim, laughs and points at us. We run towards him and he runs away.
“Stay with the car,” Joe Castro yells and we all stop, go back and evaluate the damage. Fortunately, the back seat did not burn. After a few minutes, the summer breeze clears away the smoke.
“I’ve called the cops on you boys,” one neighbor yells, hiding behind his screen door.
We all climb in the car, Joe turns off the headlights hoping to hide the license plate number, and we roar off, turn the corner on two wheels, tires screeching loudly until we’re going straight again.
“Is everybody all right?” Peter asks. “We still gotta get the eggs and bomb Maria’s house.”
Everyone agrees and soon we’re getting out in front of a market filled with shoppers. Pete opens his wallet, takes out a ten dollar bill.
“Everybody get three dozen eggs each!” he says.
When we get to the register, the clerk, an old country man, looks at us, smiles, and asks, “Whut you boys cook’n with all them eggs?”
“We’re gonna make an omlet,” I reply, “a big omlet.”
We all laugh. Inside the car, storage is a problem. We have eighteen dozen eggs and nowhere to put them. We stack some behind the back seat, some on the dash board, some on the floor, and everyone keeps a dozen or two on our laps. Even Joe, while driving, doesn’t want to miss out on the action. We’re armed and ready.
Peter tells Joe how to get to Maria’s house and we cruise past several large homes in an old well-kept neighborhood.
“That’s it, the house with the white steel bird on the screen door,” Peter finally says.
Joe stops the car and we all got out.
“Hey man, you want us to start throwing now or what?” Tony Buggica asks.
“Call her,” Pete whispers, “and as soon as she opens the door, blast her. I’ll teach that bitch never to break up with me again.”
After saying that, Pete crouches behind the front door so he can’t be seen.
“Maria!” Tony yells. Then Joe Castro and I join in, “Maria! Maria!”
Richard Tribunella, always trying to out-macho us, runs across the sidewalk and into her front yard until he’s just a few feet from the door.
“Maria! Maria! Come out here, Maria, we wanna see you!” he screams in his New York accent.
I’m temped to pelt him with an egg just to get the action going, but I hold my fire.
When the porch light goes on, Richard runs back to the car. We each have one egg in our throwing hand cocked behind our heads, waiting for the screen door to open. We wait for over a minute.
Peter, still inside the car, whispers loudly, “Call her! Call her again.”
We all started chanting in unison, “Maria. Maria. Maria!”
The chanting reminds me of Catholic Mass and I think of the Virgin Mary medal Pete wears around his neck. What we’re about to do is a sin but the excitement is irresistible.
My uneasiness started when Peter referred to Maria as a “bitch.” This girl was always nice to me and not many girls are, especially those who are beautiful and know it and flaunt it around school. My conscience screams, Speak up for her, Freddie. She’s a nice girl.
These thoughts vanish when the screen door opens and a woman with long black hair peers outside.
That’s all we need—a target. We open fire. Three eggs splatter all around her head, hitting the door, the wall, and the steel bird frozen on the screen. Tribunella’s egg flies over the top of the door, exploding on the spanish tile roof. My egg hits the woman in the forehead and I see the white eggshell shatter and embed itself in her hair. The yellow yoke streaks a blond stripe on the top of her head. We’re laughing uncontrollably. We grab egg after egg, throw ’em, then more. The woman screams, shuts the screen door, slams the front door, and turns off the porch light.
I pees my pants.
We bolt back into the car, Joe puts it in gear, pops the clutch, the back tires yelp and we speed off, squealing around the corner.
“We hit her mother!” Peter yells, “That was Maria’s mother! She didn’t even come out, dammit. Let’s go back and call her again!”
“Hell no,” I say, “the cops’ll be all around here soon. Joe, slow down, dammit. Everybody calm down. Man, I pissed my pants that was so funny.”
“Let’s go back,” Pete yells, “Maria was probably just inside the door. We can go back and call her out again.”
“Hell no,” I yell back, “we can’t risk it, Pete. Joe, drive normal like nothing happened.”
Then I get a mixed feeling. I feel bad for intending to attack a beautiful girl who was nice to me and relieved we splattered her poor mother instead. I shoot my guilt at Peter.
“Besides, Pete, she’s probably out on a date,” I say. “It’s Friday night and no girl as good looking and nice as Maria’ll be home on a Friday night.”
Pete looks gives me a serious look, eyes burning. Everyone becomes quiet, anticipating a fight. I fantasize about a Friday night date with the beautiful, sincere and sexy Maria.
We drive around in silence for twenty minutes, coming down off the Adrenalin high. We spot a young man wearing a suit and tie walking down the sidewalk.
“Let’s egg him,” Richard says. “He’s going to a dance or something. Look at him. So special, first date, wearing a coat and tie… what an asshole!”
We circle around the block, eggs up and ready. We creep up behind him, slowly and quietly. He’s walking on our left, on the driver’s side and before we’re alongside him, we start throwing.
Peter sticks his right arm out the window and hooks an egg over the roof of the car, splatting the back of the kid’s suit jacket. To my right, Tony Buggica tries to copy Peter except his egg splatters the roof of our car, yellow yoke oozing down the back window. Joe Castro and Richard Tribunella fling eggs through the driver’s window. Another egg, I don’t know whose, hits the guy on the back of the head. White eggshell slams into his duck-ass, disappears, and yellow yoke runs down his neck and back. Sammy, in a furious display of agility, flings six eggs so fast they look a train, connected and evenly spaced as they arch towards their target. Three hit and three miss.
My egg hits the post between the front and back window, exactly where the cherry bomb hit. The egg explodes inside the car. Yoke and shell spatter Joe Castro’s neck, Sammy’s shirt and the car’s cloth-covered ceiling. Throwing three more eggs in rapid succession, no one notices my misfire. No one even notices they were hit by my egg.
The victim never looks at us. He just lowers his head, does an about face and starts walking back home, probably to phone his date, change clothes, take a shower and try again later when this carload of crazy guys leaves the neighborhood.
Whooping with laughter, we describe what we saw.
“He just turned around and left! What a pussy!”
“No balls! Didn’t even look at us! Or throw us a bird!”
“We fucked up his date! Wait’ll his mother sees his suit!”
I laugh so hard, tears stream down my cheeks. We continue to drive around. The guys toss an egg once in a while at a stop sign, a billboard, a car going in the opposite direction, and, when we wait at a stop sign, at a dog sitting on the front porch of a house. The dog jumps up, startled, then puzzled, looks around, sniffs the spattered egg and licks the unexpected treat.
“Hey man, lets go to the projects and hit some jig-a-boos!” Tony says. “That’ll be fun, man. They’ll be too scared to chase us.”
Tribunella pipes up, “Good idea, Tony. Let’s do it Joe, come on. We’re only a few blocks away.”
“Yeah, let’s do it, Joe,” we all chime in and soon we’re patrolling the projects of Ybor City where poor people live.
The streets are deserted and all the porch lights are off. This seems unusual for ten o’clock on a Friday night.
“Where’s everybody at?” I ask.
“They’re probably inside fucking,” Richard says. “That’s all they do. Fuck and have babies.”
Segregation is the law in 1959 and the Negroes or ‘colored people’ as we call them, have their own schools, their own neighborhoods, playgrounds, hotels, restaurants, bars, restrooms, drug stores, night clubs, whore houses and even their own water fountains. On Sundays afternoons, about twenty or thirty of them come into MacFarlane park to play football against us Latins. We play rough tackle football, no helmets or equipment and end up with bloody noses, sprained ankles and the occasional broken arm or collar bone.
In Tampa’s social hierarchy, Anglos act like they’re at the top, followed by the Spanish and Italian on a somewhat equal level with each other and then the poor Negros. In fact, homes and school books are transferred down the same line. From Anglo to Latin and finally to Negroes.
Some Latins with Negro features insist they’re Spanish and trace their history back through Cuba all the way to Spain. Others claim they’re indigineous natives or ‘Indios’ as they like to call themselves. It’s a standing joke among Latins and even Anglos that whenever we see a beautiful Negro girl, we always said she isn’t black, she’s Indio or Indian and this earns social approval for our desire to date her. Of course, it’s against all our religions. Convention mandates that we date and reproduce only within our own race, nationality and culture. Latins are treated like distasteful subhumans by the Anglos, though not as badly and openly as they treat the Negroes. Like the coloreds, Latins refer to Anglos as “crackers” and we speak Spanish in front of Anglos to make them feel uncomfortable, giving them a taste of their own discrimination.
We know that throwing eggs at Negroes may upset the false harmony and thin veneer of peaceful coexistence but the issue of macho courage, or balls, overshadows those concerns.
Besides, this is really fun and we want more.
Turning a corner, we see a car with four old black women, all dressed nicely and wearing hats like they’re just returning home from a church social or wedding reception. They’re travelling in the same direction as we are, right in front of us and we decide to bomb them. Joe pulls out to pass their car and when we get alongside them, he holds that position while we prepare to pelt them with eggs.
When we stay alongside their car, the driver glances at us and the first egg hits her right in the face. Peter, Richard, Tony and I fling eggs out the passenger windows directly into their car less than three feet away while Joe and Sammy shoot awkward left-handed hook shots over the top of Joe’s car. The women scream as eggs disappear into their open windows, smashing against them and the inside of their car.
Unbelievably–I pee my pants again.
We stay alongside them. The driver comes to a complete stop and so does Joe. Their screaming is so loud we can’t make out what they’re saying. We laugh and enjoy the slaughter, hurling dozens of eggs into their vehicle.
Behind us, high beam headlights flash like double spotlights. I turn around and look. The car speeds towards us, accelerating quickly.
“Joe, let’s get outta here,” I yell. “A car’s coming!”
Joe looks back. So does Richard, Pete, Sammy, and Tony. Twelve eyeballs, looking through our back window, through the yellow and milky-white slime. Several eggs roll around the back window, still intact. Miraculous.
Joe tries to lose the car now on our tail. He turns left at the first street, right at the next and races towards Columbus Drive. The car behind us catches up and our bumpers are close, his bright lights blazing into our eyeballs as we take turns looking back at him.
At the corner of Columbus Drive, there’s a filling station. Joe squeals right. The car behind us cuts across the empty filling station lot, narrowly missing a pump. Both of his rear tires are screaming white smoke. It’s a brand new 1959 Ford Fairlane driven by a large white male. His powerful V-8 engine catches us and he cuts in front of us. Joe slams on his brakes. Eggs fly between us and eggs splatter our laps and floor boards.
In the smoky haze, the Ford car door opens and out steps the biggest white man I have ever seen. He’s six-foot-seven, weighs like 300 pounds and he’s carrying the longest and brightest flashlight I’ve ever seen. He shines the light into our car as he walks towards us. Our eyes are drawn to the light and he blinds us. I squint and shield my eyes with one hand.
“I’m Detective Sergeant ‘Tiny’ Anderson, Tampa Police Department,” he says, search-lighting our front seat. He shines it on Joe, then Richard, then Peter. Moving to the back seat he points the light at Tony, me, and Sammy. Then he shines on the contents of our car–dried egg yolk on the back window; broken eggs on the floor board; eggshell in our hair; dried egg on the posts between the windows; and several egg splatters on the roof.
“You boys been out throwing eggs?” he asks.
In unison, “No sir! No sir. We haven’t been throwing eggs.”
“Bullshit. The whole car looks like a fucking omelet. Now, everybody get out. Stand against the car with your hands on the roof. I saw you blast those old ladies.”
We get out, close the doors and stand facing the car, hands on the roof as he checks each of us for weapons by patting us down with one hand while he holds the flash light ready, like a huge silver hammer, to bash us if we make a wrong move.
Traffic on Columbus drive stops. People stare at us, watch the event unfold in front of the filling station, a giant white man with a huge flashlight, searching six young guys, hands hugging the old ‘49 Ford.
“What are you gonna do with us?” Joe Castro asks.
“Well, the first thing we’re gonna do, is go back there and see if those ladies are all right.”
“Please don’t take us back there,” I say, “I’m sorry we did it, I apologize, I’m sorry. Can you just let us go? We won’t do it again, I swear. Come on, please.”
“No, I can’t let you go. I want you to see what you did, face to face, to those ladies.”
“Hey man,” Tony says, “you’re a white guy, just let us go, man, we won’t do it again.”
“What if they all come out and beat us up,” I add, “can you protect us?”
“Everybody back in the car. Don’t try to run away,” he says, “you saw how fast I caught you, so no funny business. Follow me. Normally I’d put you in my car but there’s too damn many of you and I don’t wanna get raw egg shit all over my brand new car.”
“We’ll wash her car for a week if we have to, Officer,” I plead, trying one last time. “Just don’t take us back there, please. We’ll do anything. We’ll take turns for a year. One whole year, each of us. That’s six years. We’ll wash her car for six years.”
“No good. Now lets go,” he says.
We climb back into Joe’s car and follow the detective in his unmarked car back to the scene.
On the way there, Peter says, “That fucking cop won’t let us go because he’s a cracker, the biggest fucking cracker I’ve ever seen. You know why the stupid bastard’s taking us back into the projects? So when they beat the shit out of us he can stop ’em and be a hero.”
“Oh shit,” I say. “Stick together. Don’t get out of the car unless we have to. Roll up the windows and keep quiet. Oh God, I hope we get outta this without getting our asses beat.”
When we get to the scene, he pulls alongside their car and gets out to speak with them. We all stay inside Joe’s car, watching.
“Dats dem, offisuh, thems da boys dat done it, dat’s dem!” the women say as they point to us.
Using small white handkerchiefs with embroidered edges, the women dab their faces and foreheads trying to take off the raw egg residue. Their car is completely spattered, inside and out. A couple of eggs hit their hood and one even hit the left front hubcap. Strings of porch lights are on now on both sides of the street and people are gathering in a large semi-circle around the victims, all facing us.
Inside Joe’s car we sweat. The windows are rolled up tight. The raw, broken egg stench gets stronger and stronger.
Get us outta here, God. Please, get us the hell outta here! Man, what’s wrong with that cop? Can’t he see these people wanna kill us. They’ll skin us and eat us for breakfast!
Finally, the big detective comes over to Joe’s window and taps on the glass with that giant flash light. Joe cracks the window slightly.
“Follow me to the station house,” the the cop says. “I’m gonna book all of you.”
Joe follows him downtown. As soon as we leave the projects, we roll down our windows, breath a sigh of relief and let the warm night air cleanse some of the raw egg smell from the car.
“Dammit,” Joe mutters, “my father works at the police station. He’s the guy who checks people in when they’ve been arrested. He’ll beat my ass right in front of everybody.”
When we get inside the station, two uniformed officers walk towards us.
“Joey, what are you doing here?” one of them says.
As the man walks closer to us, he notices the egg yolk and egg shells in our hair and clothes.
“Oh, so you used your car to go out throwing eggs, huh?” He puts his face right in front of Joe’s and adds, “I oughta beat the shit outta you right here and now, God damn it. You get in that cage with the rest of your monkey friends.”
We’re herded into a small caged area and asked to give our name, age, address and phone number. Because Tony is 18 years old, he’s taken into the back and jailed with a bunch of drunks, as he tells us later.
Finally, a policeman announces that we have to call our parents to come and get us.
“Can I just spend the night here?” I ask, knowing what will happen when my father gets a hold of me.
“No,” he says. “Everyone must call and get picked up tonight. I’ll have your court date and papers ready before your parents get here. You first,” he says, pointing to me.
It’s past midnight as I dial my phone number. After several rings, my mother answeres.
“Hello, Ma” I say, “Can you pick me up and give me a ride home?”
“Sure Freddie, are you OK? Where are you?”
“At the police station.”
There’s a very long pause.
“Ma? Can you come and get me?”
“Your father will come and get you.”
I just stand there with the receiver stuck to my ear, listening to a loud dial tone for several seconds as the cops watch me.
“OK, Ma. Thanks,” I say to the buzzing sound and hang up.
When I get back to the holding cell, all I can say is, “Oh shit. Oh shit. He’s gonna beat the living crap outta me.”
We finish our calls and Richard Tribunella’s parents are first to arrive. They speak with the police officers, fold up some papers and watch us, a deadly serious look on both their faces as Richard walks towards them.
“Not here, not here,” Richard’s mother warns, one hand on the center of her husband’s chest.
“All right, all right,” he responds, voice rising before turning phoney and pleasant. “Come on Richie. Walk in front of me. The car’s right outside heah.”
His mother leads the way, then Richard, then his father. As Richard reaches the door, his father can’t contain himself any longer. He glances around to see if anyone is watching, then slaps the back of Richard’s head as hard as he can. Richard sprawls out into the street, arms flailing, trying to keep his balance.
That’s what my dad’s gonna do. That’s exactly what he’ll do.
Waiting in the cage, I differentiate smells – raw eggs, floor wax, bleach, sweat, Old Spice and the cold smell of fear.
When my dad walks in, he looks white like the blood has drained from his whole body. He speaks with the cops, folds his sheets of paper and jams them into his pocket. Now he stands inside the doorway waiting for me to pass – his favorite attack position. When he comes home from work and hears from Ma what horrible things I’ve done to aggravate her, he calls me in from outside, positions himself in the doorway and, when I walk past him, starts the beating by slapping the back of my head just like Richard’s father did to him.
Once, I refused to walk past him and he said, “I won’t hit you. Now come in. Hurry up, before I come out there and get you. If I have to come after you, it’ll be worse. I promise you. Now get in here, Goddamnit!”
Of course, I didn’t believe him. But the fear of it being worse compells me to enter the house, ducking, anticipating the blow to come.
Now he’s in that same position. I know he’ll hit me in front of all these cops.
Maybe the cops even expect it from him. Shows them what a good parent he is; that he supports their efforts to stop crime in the streets and a good beating will do just that – act as a deterrent to future crime, making their jobs even easier. Hell, they’ll thank him for beating me in front of them so they can be a witness to it, enjoy it, maybe even break out into a cheer followed by a round of applause.
I walk towards him and he stares at me like I’m a complete stranger, some kid that doesn’t belong to him. Someone he’s just picking up at the police department as a favor to some poor mother and the court papers are just part of the administrative details involved with helping out a neighbor, a kindly act, expected from religious people like Dad. In a burst of speed, I duck through the doorway and I’m shocked there’s no blow to the back of my head, no foot kicking my butt, no razor strop whistling through the air. I turn around, puzzled, and stare at my Dad.
“Just shut up and get in the car,” he says and I do it.
“You scared the shit outta your mother,” he adds on the way home. “We don’t know what we’re gonna do with you but I’ll think of something.”
When we get into the house, we sit around the kitchen table, Ma, Dad, and I. Mom has been crying and she finally speaks to me.
“Freddie, I hope you never do anything like this again. Next time, we’ll leave you in jail until you rot. We won’t get you out, Freddie, you hear me?”
I nod my head yes and we all sit quietly for several minutes. Suddenly my dad jumps up.
“I know what I’ll do!” he says.
He opens up the refrigerator, takes out an egg, and cracks it over a coffee cup. He lifts up the white shell and shakes it till everything globs into the cup. He slams the cup down in front of me.
“Drink it. Drink the whole thing until there’s nothing left,” he says. “Go out throwing eggs, huh? I’ll show you. Drink that damn egg, now!”
I lift the cup to my lips, slurp the egg into my mouth and swallow. It tasts like slime and I swallow several more times until nothing’s left.
“Now go to bed,” Dad says and so finishes the night of throwing eggs.
The court appearance results in a verbal warning from the judge about throwing things from cars. He remarks that some kids threw a grapefruit at a man riding a tractor, the man fell off and the tractor ran over him, killing him. I’ve done many exciting things before and after that event, but nothing ever made me pee my pants twice in one night.
I feel older, more mature, like I’ve crossed some invisible line between adolescence and adulthood. Kids get spanked. Young adults get punished. Maybe I won’t get beaten anymore, ever again. I ponder this and pray that this is true and I firmly decide that some actions and emotions, even though they are very exciting and fun, just have to be kept under control.
Fred Tomasello Jr. is an author living in Florida. His book “West Tampa Stories” can be purchased here LINK