Splitting the Uprights

A recent topic on THR got me thinking about a bastard of a neighbor I lived across the street from. Growing up, we all had the same kind of person. He was the street's own a$$hole, drunk, high and just plain stupid with a rap sheet to match. Mine was Arthur Costa. I am not ashamed to name this prick. He probably doesn't even remember me, but I bet he remembers my good friends, the O'Malleys.*

I lived in the typical WASP neighborhood in Houston. Well, actually, it was predominantly Jewish with a smattering of WASP, Catholic and Lutheran thrown in for good measure. I lived just south of the Bellaire city limits back when the houses were bungalows on acre tracts of land. You don't find that over there now. Houses are upwards of over a million per and the kids drive the three blocks to Bellaire H.S. in a brand new Lexus or King Ranch Ford Pick Up. The only people that take the bus are the ones in the magnet program. Don't get me wrong, the PTA is great at that school, but I still don't trust public education. Those magnet program kids are going to be using cash registers with pictures on the buttons while the trust fund babies of Bellaire and West U. deliver their babies and defend them on their next possession charge.

Anyway, I digress. We were discussing my dipsh*t neighber, Arthur. That is his real name, public record in some courthouse in Texas, I'm sure. The O'Malleys are real enough, but I changed the last name to protect their identity. Last I checked (we lost track of each other around 2000), the youngest boy 'Sean' was an attorney in Houston, 'Padraig' is a golf pro at a nice country club, the oldest boy, 'Daniel,' is also an attorney, the next oldest boy, 'Jerome' is or was a minister and married with kids. They have two sisters, one of whom is married and I'm sure with kids now, and the other must be married by now or in a convent.

When my parents moved into the neighborhood way back when, the O'Malleys were the first family to introduce themselves to us. Sean was as old as my oldest sister, and his dad used to tease them both that "they made a cute couple." Given the chance, I'm sure they would have gone out to please our parents. They ran in different circles and never had the chance. Our families took to each other and became fast friends. We all looked out for each other and pal'd around the neighborhood.

Whenever I wasn't with my friends around the corner, I was playing whiffle ball in the street with the O'Malley boys, trying to shoot hoops on their backboard, getting pegged square in the back with a raquetball during a game of hotbox, or generally trying to tag along. I put up with a lot of crap from some of their friends, but mostly, Sean and Padraig were kind to me. I was about four years younger than them, but that didn't seem to matter. There was the usual joshing and leg-pulling from them, but that was the neighborhood pecking order. I got an education from those boys that helped mold me into the person I am today.

Ours were the two neighborhood hang-outs. Mom would cook dinner and at least two or three other kids would join us some night. Albert, another neighbor kid, always seemed to know when Mom cooked beef stroganoff. He'd be at the table with fork in hand before the noodles were done. I was usually tasked with borrowing a cup of milk or sugar when the need arose. It was no skin off any teeth because it was a two way street.

We were close. I was accepted. Life rolled on.

The antithesis lived right across the street in a less than stellar colonial looking ranch house. A three bed, two bath fixer with detached garage. Weeds tended to poke through the cracks in the front walk and something was always peeling or about to break off that house. Arthur, the patriarch of that family was a mean and abusive drunkard who, I'm not positive, probably dabbled in something other than recreational drugs. His wife was the local barfly whore. Her left foot probably thought the right one stank because they were never together long enough for her to stand straight according to the neighbors. They had two kids who, by all accounts, were either sleeping together, or with each parent. They were fucked up. They weren't just fucked up...they were FUCKED up. There isn't a talk show or therapist around today that could straighten out that mess.

Sean and Padraig used to beat the ever-loving snot out of Arthur Jr. These two were modern day Velociraptors. They were calculating and cunning. Junior was a couple years older than they, but it didn't take much to get him good. One of the O'Malley boys would be bait and goad Junior to a confrontation. The other would lie in wait for a pre-arranged signal that would inevitably spell Junior's doom. They'd kick his ass and he'd go running home to daddy who'd promptly kick his ass again for being such a wuss. Padraig and Sean didn't stop there. They also found ways to piss of Senior Costa.

Remember when Dominoes first hit the scene? I remember it was the early eighties and I was usually designated as the innocuous lookout. Costa Sr. didn't have much to do with me because he just didn't wanna have to fuck with my dad. I don't know what kept him out of my hair, but it may have had something to do with my dad's Pasadena steelworker roots. When you hear stories about how your granddaddy was a supervisor for Arco and knew how to bust up a union strike with his bare hands, you can only assume he passed that down to his son. Senior didn't mess with me, so I could operate unmolested as a lookout.

Well, the boys would get together and make up new ways to torment Senior and Junior Costa. Their all-time fave was calling Dominoes and ordering for a party. A dozen pies usually did the trick without raising suspicion from the store, and there were plenty of stores with overlap that never caught on to the ruse. One of the guys would call and place the order and they'd run over to my house to watch the show almost thirty minutes later. They were careful to jump the fence behind my house and enter through the back. We'd sit and watch the guy pull up, get the pizzas out of the backseat and make his approach. Costa Sr. would flip his lid when the guy rang the doorbell. You could hear him yell a mile away. Hootin' and hollerin' a blue streak that he never ordered the pizza and didn't know where it came from. We'd be in hysterics over this and laugh harder when the driver demanded payment. There was one store in particular that, after having all the pizzas thrown across the lawn, sent their next biggest driver to collect payment. He was big, black, and blocked out the sun. Costa paid that day.

TeePee'ing houses was another favorite pasttime, too. Everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone. The main rule was that you only papered houses where you knew the people. You were also expected to "make an appearance" on the premise of checking the damage (your handiwork) and offer to help pick it up the next day. Either the parents didn't know our ruse, or they just smiled inwardly to themselves as we 'offered' to rake the mess up and hose it out of the trees. The Costas got tired of this after a couple of years. He called up one day and had both of his beautiful Live Oaks taken down to the stumps. Then the stumps were removed. Hell, that just made it easier to watch him blow up when the pizza guy showed up. Or when he was hauled away by the cops for toolin' up his wife. Or...when she was hauled off.

I remember one day long ago. Probably spring or summer. I was sitting up on a brick wall that divided our yard from the inner courtyard by the front door. Padraig and his buddy, Teddy, come walking down the street to my house. Teddy heads around the corner to his house and Padraig stops to talk to me briefly. Side Note: Teddy lives directly behind casa de Costa.

Padraig has a football and kicking tee under his arm and politely asks if he could practice in my yard. Doesn't bother me. But he warned that I should keep an eye out for Costa, as this might piss him off. Well, I ain't missing this for all the tea in China. I settled in to watch the show. You have to admit, the following is genuis aggravation.

Padraig and Teddy start taking turns kicking the football over the Costa house into the next yard. This probably goes on for an hour or so. My dad can attest to this, because he had to leave for a dinner meeting with clients and watched as Padraig sent a football over his car and clear into the next yard. Teddy was in his backyard shagging and kicking them back. A couple of times his shots fell short and Padraig would run across the street and fetch the ball. The other neighborhood rule was you didn't throw anything into Costa's yard. You usually took the loss. Hell, I was so scared of the guy that I would run and hide if I hit the curb with a tennis ball.

Well, dear readers, it was bound to happen. Like Al Del Greco trying for a point after attempt, Padraig shanked it. Not merely shanked, but toe-punched straight into the front door. This kid had some leg, and was getting good air. When that ball hit the front door, it was like a cannon went off. Well, he hauls arse over to get the ball off the porch about the same time Mr. Costa gets from his perch in the front window to the door. Padraig was trying hard to de-arse the AO when Costa gets a handful of shirt and proceeds to beat ever-loving snot out of said neighbor boy. Sean hears the commotion from two doors down (he was shooting hoops and wasn't involved in the original plan) and comes tear-assing across. He bum-rushed Costa like a linebacker on a blitz. Everybody goes flying and I start yelling for the boys to come to my house. I was already down by the courtyard gate encouraging them to hurry. My door was unlocked and the O'Malleys had been there enough times to know where to go and how to deadbolt.

It was only a 40 to 50 yard shot from front door to front door and the boys were in fifth gear going for sixth. They lit outta that yard with Costa fast on their heels. They hit the courtyard gate as I slammed it in Costa's face and we all ran inside. Next thing you know, he's banging on the door and screaming bloody murder. He was gonna kick ass, he was gonna waste those punks, no M-F'ing way could they hide in my house forever. Yadda, freakin' yadda.

Mom was home and knows something is up by the way we bust through the door. She comes out from the bedroom in a flannel nightgown wondering what we did. Padraig and Sean spill the beans and she stifles a giggle. By this time Arthur Sr. is trying to shoulder the door open. Solid Oak, ain't happening. He was shaking the eaves of the house and scaring my sisters to death. We boys were starting to get a bit worried, too. This was in the days when cell phones didn't exist and daddy was really out of the loop on this one.

Gotta love my mom. She protects her young uns and those they are friends with. It was common knowledge that the O'Malley boys thought of new ways to torment the Costa family. In the early eighties, boys would be boys. This political correct crap didn't exist. Neighbors got along and every street had its very own pariah. Everyone knew what went on and used it as a form of entertainment. We had front row seats living across from the Costas. My parents also had a sense of humor about it, too. My parents also treated the neighborhood kids like their own brood and went to great lengths to protect them as well.

Mom shooed us back from the door and windows in the front living room. She went to dad's side of the bed and retrieved his model 29 S&W revolver in .44mag. Trust me when I say this, mom can shoot. We were all watching in rapt fascination as she threw the door open, shoved that muzzle in Arthur's mouth and cocked the hammer. In a calm voice she said, "You have until the count of three to make your peace with God. Then I'm gonna pull the trigger. One...tw" She never got past 'two'. Costa left like a whipped cur dog bleeding from the gap in his two front teeth where mom gave him a Texas root canal.

He was drunk, threating and attempting to beat a couple of minor children. Mom called the cops. They showed up fast when they heard who we were complaining about. I remember the conversation pretty well between mom and the cops. They wanted to know why she didn't pull the trigger on that sad sack. As the responding seargant put it, "Next time it happens, ma'am, just shoot that sonuvabitch. We'll make sure it never makes it to a grand jury." That was when everyone in the neighborhood found out about the extensive record of Arthur Costa. You name it, he did it. The cops told us about the thickness of the file they carried on him at the nearby substation. Reminder, this was in the days when computers were the size of Rhode Island and cost more than the GDP of Botswana. No way they could pull up his file on the internet. There was also no way they could be lying when a couple of patrolmen individually verified the exact thickness of the file (12 inches and growing-and that was just the file on assaults).

After that, the O'Malley boys pretty much left him alone. They did their best and went out on top. It was the stuff of neighborhood legends. They still kicked the ever-loving shit outta his boy when they got the chance, but that soon became a blaise affair. A few years later, he moved out. I never remember seeing the moving vans. The sign was up, and he was gone. We moved to another part of town in the early ninties. We soon lost touch with the O'Malleys and our friends. I still work nearby, and when the fancy strikes, I like to drive through the old neighborhood on my lunch break. The sprawl and monster houses are starting to make their way down into that neighborhood from Bellaire. I don't know how long it will be until they really take hold. Values are way up and preventing many from getting good deals on land. Most of the old neighbors have died or moved on. Steve and his son Jason; remarried with a baby in Kalifornia and son is out there, too. The Wymans and Truebloods are way long gone. They were the street's very own Mr. & Mrs. Wilsons from 'Dennis the Menace.' Both the husbands were WWII vets and retired. Great old men who'd spend time and share a laugh and a story with the neighbor kids. The Harrisons were next door to the Costas. A great Jewish family who invited our Catholic family to break bread with on many occasions.

I miss that part of my life. I know I may never get it back in this day and age. I have my own life and family to start and the neighbors here are pretty closed up. I get waves and a brief hello from time to time, but nothing like I used to have. Oh, to be that little boy again.

*O'Malley is a fictitious name. I didn't want to name them out of respect for their private lives. I have no problem naming Arthur Costa and his family. Chances are, they are all dead, dying, in jail or on the lam.

1 comment:

AlanDP said...

Great story!