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THE FOUR BUDDIES
Butch Dicky Peter Dave

Butch was the alpha male of the four close nit guys in my ‘Eight Street’ grade school class. He was fatherless and raised by his grandparents. I had been in this house only a couple of times and never did meet his mother. It was customary in those days not to play or socialize at someone's else's home, we always congregated at Red Arrow Park instead. The park was within two walking blocks distance for just about every kid I hung around with. Butch was our leader and protector whenever we went on foot or bike excursions around the city. Butch led trips to the city stockyards, industrial valley coal piles and the waterfront of Lake Michigan. “Butch, we’ve gone to far let’s turn around and go back home”, I pleaded to Butch on one such trip. He had taken us on a a walking trip following the electric company’s power-line right-away. The venture went from downtown Milwaukee all the way out to the suburbs.

Butch was also one of the better athletes of our gang and the power hitter of our softball team. During a little league basketball game at the old YMCA, he was involved in a skirmish. He suddenly got up from the old wooden gym floor and ran down the hall to seat himself on top of a water fountain. During a basketball game he tripped and the friction of sliding on his butt had somehow ignited the farmer matches he carried in his back pocket.
A rite of passage for teenagers of my era was drinking at teen bars outside the Milwaukee city limits. Our favorite was an old wooden barn structure thirty five miles North of the city. Back then it was called “Wilers”. That was the first place I ever saw a male urinate in a sink. At that time, there wasn't a State of Wisconsin uniform drinking age. Local communities could set their own standards. On several occasions, a bunch of us would pile into Butch's brown and white 56' Ford and go for a night of heavy beer drinking. At just about closing time his best buddy Peter was so drunk he could only get out the incoherent plea, “Putch, I’m drunk please take me home”. After leaving the tavern we all piled into his car. I was in the front middle seat. Butch put the pedal to the metal of the Ford and the car shot out of the parking lot and immediately up to a high rate of speed. The speeding car began drifting onto the right shoulder of the road. Butch over-corrected and the car began rocking on two wheels. “Whoa”, someone exclaimed from the back seat. Butch was able to gain control and kept the car from flipping over. He reduced his speed after that close call and the hair on the back of my neck settled down.

Another incident know to most teens of that era involved a girl getting killed coming back from that same teen bar. She had stuck her head out of a car window to vomit. A truck coming from the opposite direction had a shovel protruding on the side. It severed her head off.

Butch went on in life to be a bartender, tavern owner and successful salesman of Cadillac automobiles.

Butch and Peter joined the Army under the buddy system. Together Dave and Dickie did the same. I joined the Navy and went on two years active duty. Sleeping in a warm cot board a ship appeared to be a better choice than six months of army life sleeping in a ditch. All of us were discharged before the Vietnam War heated up. Of the five of us, I was only one that graduated from high school. In those days if you did not wish to go to high school you had the option of attending vocational school. Educators and politicians must have figured that the high school dropouts would at least have some exposure to the skilled trades while attending "Voc". In the 1950s obtaining a GED was not yet an option. There were plenty of good paying jobs that didn't even require a high school diploma.

After leaving the service, I obtained a factory job right away. The money was good. After two months of dangerous work in the smelting department I was ready for the next big move in my life. I had almost lost my fingers to a band saw accident. That incident motivated me to attend technical school and learn about the printing business. My sister was dating a cool guy who was my inspiration to be a printer. The schools guidance counsellor advised, “Don, we have a two year Printing Associates program that might interest you” I signed up, completing a two year printing management program was my new goal. After one year of full-time day school I was temporarily side-tracked when offered a four year apprenticeship as a unionized lithographer stripper. It took me another six years of part-time night school to accumulate all the credits and get my diploma. A stripper is a misnomer. It’s actually a pre-press craftsman that cuts film and puts them into a page sequence for the pre-sensitized aluminum printing plates. Except for small crews of pressman, today's computer operators have replaced the skilled trade craftsman of my era.

Dickie always claimed he introduced himself to me in kindergarten. To this day he still remembers our grade school teachers. I recently asked him if he remembered the lunch cook names, “Mrs. Thom and Winnie” was his reply. Dickie had the best looks to go with his blond hair and slender build. He had the coolest hairdo and was the tallest and best athlete of us all. He was always the best ping-pong player at the park pavilion. I stayed with that sport and eventually became a nationally ranked table tennis player and coach. In the old days we played pong almost every winter night at the park. In-between matches, we played the game battleship on sheets of mimeo-graft paper. “Battleship” had yet to be patented and marketed as a the popular board game. As a teenager Dickie was talented enough to be a starter on his high school football and basketball team. To his coaches dismay, he dropped out of school during his sophomore season. “I just didn’t like school so I quit” was his explanation. All the guys showed up at my wedding reception and Dickie was my best-man.
Coming home late one night from a date I happened to see Dickie getting in his car. He was leaving the hospital after treatment in the emergency room. I asked what happened, “I was attacked after work” He went on to explain that he left his drugstore job late at midnight when a gang of youths accosted him as he was walking to his car. Two of the meaner ones of the bunch pinned him up against a wall and smashed an umbrella across his face. The blow cracked five of his front teeth. Seeking some payback I said, “let’s go and find them”. We grabbed a crowbar from the trunk of my car and drove around the inner city looking for the perps. Searching the area where the attack took place until about three in the morning was fruitless. Thinking back, I'm sure glad we didn't find his assailants.

With a new wife and a baby on the way Dickie started getting himself in shape to take the exam for a firefighter. He was physically prepared but flunked the written exam. Months later he retook the written exam and passed. During that lapse in time he let his physical conditioning slip. He then flunked the physical test. He said, “My legs legs locked up on me while pedaling on the stationary bike test”. He became a bus driver instead. Race riots occurred in just about every major city in the 1960s. Dickie’s bus was passing through the stricken section of Milwaukee just as the civil disobedience was starting. His passengers were lying on the floor and eleven bus windows were broken before he was able to make it out of the area. His bus was the last one to make it down Third Street before the riot police shut down that part of the city.

The stress of driving through dangerous parts of Milwaukee eventually got to him. He took a test and was promoted to a garage mechanic. He became union steward and used is connections get his nephew Ronnie hired at the bus station. It was devastating to Dickie when his cousin lost an eye when a screwdriver slipped as he was prying off an engine vent screen on the back of a bus. One day Dickie was working under a bus when the suspension started giving way. He was able to slide out from underneath the bus just as it came crashing down onto the garage floor. That near fatal accident cost him a piece of his ear.
 
Peter was always getting into trouble. He always had that mischievous look in his eyes. Second to Butch he was strongest and toughest of us five. He was short and stocky but very quick with his hands and feet. On Friday nights, about twenty of us kids assembled at the park and walked downtown to the YMCA for some gym time and a swim. After we showered we all went into the pool buck naked. There was a object floating around in the pool that resembled a Babe Ruth candy bar. Peter was sent in to retrieve it. One winter night he came busting out of the ice skating warming shack at the Red Arrow Park. The back of his jacket was on fire. On a dare, he allowed someone to pour lighter fluid light on him and light it up. He was frequently mistaken for being of Asian descent. The police once questioned me about the harassment of the local candy shop owner. We used open his shop door and yell, "Pikey you Jew!" and take off. One night a patrol car pulled up to the curb and called me over. The cops queried me about a Chinese guy and a black guy that were part of our gang of punks. It never occurred to me they were referring to Peter as an Asian. I did squeal and gave up Felix. I heard through the grapevine that the cops went to his home and gave his parents a hard time. Felix was a great guy and came from a good family. To this day, I still carry the guilt of ratting on him. Years later I became Pikeys paper boy. He never once brought up those past incidents, nor did ever tip me.

During lunch hour on the school playground Peter volunteered to let me punch him in the face as hard as I could. If he was left standing, it would be his turn to hit me. Needless to say I didn't take him up on the offer. One day during playground recess I swiped his sailor hat. He chased me around the playground and he tripped me. I broke my arm in the fall and had to wear a cast. To my delight, Joanne became my temporary personal assistant for any classroom writing assignments. She was by far the pick of the entire eighth grade class. I dated Joanne after high school but she got tired of going to the submarine races with me. I crossed paths with her many years later. I told her accompanied husband that he married the prettiest girl in the neighborhood. Joanne exclaimed’ “there was no other girl in the neighborhood”. Peter died at the early age of 50.

Dave was a quiet guy with a short fuse. If his team was losing a softball game he would take the ball and throw it over the fence. After school one day we were harassing a lithe blond boy who was a year younger than us. His first name was Gunnar. He resembled one of those arian youths seen in old World War II history films. We mercilessly taunted him. He was accused of being a Nazi. One day after school we chased him. He managed to get about 100 yards between us and stopped on the other side of the busy Wisconsin Avenue Boulevard. He then snapped to full attention and gave us the Nazi salute. I don't remember ever seeing Gunnar again after that incident. Dave probably would have beaten the daylights out of him.

Dave was the first of us to own a car. His mother bought him a 1947 Ford before he wasn’t even old enough to obtain a driver's license. To illegally practice his driving skills he would race up and down the alley behind his apartment building. On one occasion, he came down the alley at a high rate of speed and tried to swing into his garage. He missed the turn and smashed the car into the garage door. Investigating Police detectives came looking for Dave. They knocked on his mothers apartment door and were let in by a buddy named Sheets. The cops couldn't find Dave in the apartment so they took Sheets down to the Police station for more questioning. Later that day Dave went down to the station and confessed to the misdeed. He told the cop that he had been in the closet all the time hiding under a pile of clothes. The detective was astounded, he told Dave, “I searched every inch of that apartment”.

One day a couple of us chose to put our heads together and learn how to change the oil in Dave's car. After completing that task, Butch inadvertently stepped into the full oil pan on the garage floor. He's always maintained that one oil filled shoe lasted longer than the other one.

Dave and another fellow named Greg were close friends and shared the love of bikes and BB guns. Greg lived in a downtown four story apartment building adjacent to the x-rated Princess movie theatre. They both had brand new chrome Schwinn heavy duty bikes. Their Cadillac of bikes featured whitewall tires, disc brakes and a large shock absorber on the handle bars. There're bikes were extremely sturdy because they no problem riding them down the flights of stairs inside the apartment building.

The two of them had numerous opportunities to peek in on a gorgeous young nude woman tanning herself under a sunlamp in Greg's apartment. His dad was an airline pilot and she was probably an airline stewardess. From the buildings roof top they also would spied on a naked women living in the adjacent hotel. Dave always claimed the woman put on a show knowing the boys were looking down at her. More than once from that same rooftop the boys dropped snow balls off the roof or would piss on people passing below on the sidewalk .

One day the cops came to Greg’s apartment and and asked if he knew anything about the missing lights on the Chinese restaurant. The business was located directly across the street. The cops claimed someone had shot the owner in the back as he was changing some of the broken lights in his large blinking Chop Suey sign. During another incident, I was with those guys as they shot BBs out of a four story window in the back of the building. The window overlooked an alley. This time the targets were also people. I remember seeing a man about 75 yards away flinch after being hit in the back of the leg. We then heard someone coming up the back steps toward us. In a flash, Greg bounded up to the next flight of stairs and disappeared with incriminating rifle in hand. Dave was born at home and like Butch he grew up without a father. Dave has had a lengthy career as an over the road tractor-trailer driver. Now in retirement, he is an avid outdoorsman.