No one ever took Mike Messina for a Rhodes Scholar. Let’s get the understatements out of the way. When it came to brains, he never paid his light bill. What he did to the English language was nothing short of murder and if bullshit was electricity, he would be Con Edison. But he had his ways. If he couldn’t fight you, he would wear you down. His name should have been Mike Machiavelli.
For us, in the early ’60’s, there was never any relaxation of the dress code. What you wore on any given day or night could move you up or down in the Davis Sq. pecking order. Such was the seriousness of the “clothes made the man” code we lived by.
Hair. Hair was all consuming. Back then you could actually attain follicular sainthood and be described as “the guy with the good hair.” You didn’t even need a name.
The introduction of permanent press clothing kicked up another level of stress. Permanent press back then wasn’t what it is today. One double crease in your pants and it was over. Double creased for life. You would have to go out and steal another pair. I remember when my brother John was ironing his iridescent, high water, wish I was James Brown, shit kickers.
There could be no TV, no radio, no talking (on the whole street) as he ironed with the efficiency of an ATF agent defusing a bomb. He would even attempt to get the dry cleaner to sign a waiver to press his pants. He threw John out.
So back to that sneaky bastard, Mike. Every night that counted, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, (Thursday was pay night.) the plan was always to meet at Mike’s house on Jay Street. It was a cramped, steamy, Italian, third floor tenement.
The mother was always so nice in her broken English but it was always hot up there, even in the winter. Summers? Ugh! The only attraction to us at the time was maybe we could catch his older sister Anna in some form of undress before she went out with Eddie Faulkner. Worth the wait, believe me.
Once, when “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” came on, Anna went hysterical and her house coat flew open. I almost caught a touch of the vapors on that one. Seared into my memory. She would have so many rollers in her hair she could pick up WMEX. But it in no way, detracted from her fiery Italian beauty. Mannaggia!
On those hot summer nights we would have to sit there while Mike dawdled…and dawdled…and dawdled. By the time he was ready, it was almost time for us to come home again. Before long, we all looked like we got hit with a fire hose. Our clothes were soaked, our hair (think Vaseline and sweat) was down over our eyes.
I remember Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” wafting through the air on those muggy summer nights. And I remember Mike, always fresh as a daisy, as we walked beside him back up Jay Street like his rumpled, disheveled flunkies, our eyes watering from the gallons of Canoe he hosed himself with, while we withered in the night.
Got to give him credit though, that bastard, he knew how to even up the competition. So Mike, if you are somewhere and someone is reading this to you, I would just like to say, Ba-fungoo!
But please, say hello to Anna for me. 🙂