Here is what writers do best, tell the truth about themselves, make the obfuscated become more clear. So here is the deal with my name. I have no legal document of birth from that Christmas Day in Brooklyn, NY back in 1963. My mother had told me it existed, that she had seen it, but, that it had been destroyed in an effort to protect me. I have never seen it and was told to never talk about it. It is alleged to have the name of my natural birth father, Antonio Maranzano. His name was instituted as mine to mark me as his Jr., even though my mother and he were not married and at some point he was shot in the back of the head by unknown assailants in his favorite restaurant. My mother did marry a man in Atlantic City soon before I was born in a move to protect me and give me a different last name. It was not a successful ruse, as the man, Harry Norden, was an abusive drunk who tormented her and threatened our lives. Friends and family of my birth father intervened on my mother's behalf, or so I have heard. My mother was told to leave Brooklyn and all would be taken care of, but she should not ever come back. To the best of my knowledge this was done by the favor of an old Don who had been supportive of my father and friends with my grandfather, my father's father, who brought my birth father from Sicily when he was a boy and who was also murdered in New York City in 1931.
So you see, my naming was a bit erratic from birth. I was my mother's firstborn child. She had been living in New York City for some time before I was born. She had moved there from Dallas, TX in the mid-50's. She had spent a little time at the Art Institute of Chicago before that. She was born in Roswell, NM in 1935. She was also the first child of her teenage mother, who ran with the honky-tonk crowd back then. My grandmother left my mother's father and took up with a silver-tongued devil that would later record with Lefty Frizzell. This man was abusive toward my mother after my grandmother bore him his first child and my mother's first sibling. My mother was left behind in Roswell with her grandmother, my great-grandmother. As a young girl my mother took to behaving loudly and grew to a height of 6' 1". She witnessed lights fall from the sky and crash on the horizon on a magical night in Roswell. It became the first official UFO hysteria incident. Her grandmother had passed away on a Christmas morning and my mother was taken to Texas to be looked after by her aunt. She finished high school there and worked at several jobs to make money to go to art school in Chicago. She worked for the Hunt Bros. as a secretary and secretly worked evenings at The Silver Spur. Her employer, Jack Ruby, had a sympathetic ear, and he encouraged my mother to go to Chicago, which was his hometown. She went, but did not last a full year, returned to Dallas and began to work at the Vegas, one of Ruby's newest clubs. The Vegas had striptease and dance shows as well as bands traveling through. My mother then was inspired to go to New York City. Possibly to dance as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall and to pursue her artistic interests.
My mother arrives in New York City and tries a few different things that don't pan out. She stays at a women's boarding house on 57th and Lex at first. She does dancing, acting off Broadway, hanging out in the Village art scene, painting backdrops for Broadway musicals, assisting Wardrobe, joining a witch's coven, acting like a beatnik, hanging out at jazz clubs all night long. She finally lands a gig with a music producer named Mo Preskell who worked for Kapp Records. She works her way up from his secretary to an A&R job that has her out every night, sometimes flying to Havana to support acts like Roger Williams, Brian Hyland, Ruby and The Romantics, Chubby Checker and The Mary Kaye Trio, vacationing in Puerto Rico and hanging out at the Blue Note with various gentlemen, one of whom would become my biological father. She moved to Brooklyn, to a brownstone behind the Dutch Reformed Church on Flatbush Ave.
She was soon well known around the neighborhood, and at her and my father's favorite restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, as "Tex". They were an item for a while. She became pregnant one day and a short time afterward something happened between her and my father. As my mother tells it, it had to do with her not being Sicilian or Catholic. Around this time he was killed, after which she took up with the Norden character. She was alone, pregnant and scared inside, but kept up a good front outside. She married Norden on a whim to help protect me by hopefully giving me a new birth name. He became very drunken and abusive after the overnight wedding in Atlantic City. On November 22, the president was assassinated in Dallas, TX. People began to shun her and she became very depressed. On November 24, her former employer and supporter, Jack Ruby, gunned down the alleged assassin and it was broadcast on television. On Christmas Eve, 1963, a blizzard had hit the Brooklyn area and everything was snowed in. My mother was forced to walk many blocks to the Scottish Rite Hospital, where she collapsed in labor and sick with pneumonia. She gave birth to me the following morning. Someone from my father's side of the family had been alerted and filled in the portions of the birth certificate with my father's name and my name as a "Jr."
When my mother came home from the hospital with me, she told me that the abuse worsened and she feared that Harry Norden would kill us both in some drunken rage. She called on friends of my father's, some from the local precinct and some who had been loyal to my father. Evidently, they all knew what a piece of work this Norden guy was. They told her to pack her bags one night and that she could get a one-way ticket out of town and never look back. She left behind everything and went to be with her birth mother, who had remarried another man, George Mitchell, and she was living in Redlands, CA, working as a housekeeper. My mother was in fear and sad as well as destitute. She was a single mother with a bastard son and no ability to use her work references. She felt she had to lay low so she set about getting into a secretary pool and working any odd job she could find.
My grandmother's house was a central location for family gatherings back then. I had many aunts and uncles and there were always people around to watch me while my mom went to work. Some of my first memories are of family gatherings at this house and all the different people that came there. My mother was introduced to a man who was a friend of one of her sister's new husband. He was a quiet, cool Korean Service veteran of the U.S. Army who had grown up in Las Vegas, NV and who now worked for Standard Oil of California at a Service Station on Route 66/I15E coming out of Cajon Pass. It was a busy gas stop for fueling up to get to Vegas or fueling up to get to Los Angeles. He and my mother hit it off on the first date. They were married in Las Vegas when I was 3. I thought he was my biological father and no one wanted to tell me different. We moved into a house that was owned by one of my uncle's in a section of San Bernardino called Muscoy. It was some tract housing that a developer had gotten an idea to market to residents of South Central who were burned out during the Watts riots and who wanted to escape the turmoil there. The developer was hoping to get some government subsidy kickback for the deal. It created a bleak economic scenario for the area, which was not properly developed as far as infrastructure yet.
We lived on a corner of a cul-de-sac that was created by the street ending in a vast desert wash that came down from the Cajon Pass just below Devore. I played in the street and in the desert beyond with a few groups of maladjusted children from stressed out families that lived on the block. The play was violent and abusive as well as dangerous considering the elements of the desert that we dealt with. Poisonous snakes, insects, rabid animals, flash floods, 120-degree afternoon sun and predatory adults and older kids all made up a crash course in survival. Even though I had a mother and father who loved me and supported me, I still felt odd and I remember how I sensed something was just not right. I acted out sometimes, but didn't really understand why. I knew I was born somewhere else, but so were most of the kids I played with. My mom would start to tell me things about myself and then stop and tell me to never repeat what she just told me. Sometimes she would seem very serious and scared, sometimes I could see the sadness of it all welling up inside her. Most of the time she was a boisterous gal with a loud laugh and a Texas drawl, and just a hint of Brooklyn mensch on occasion.
She read to me constantly, painted paintings on an easel, was a stern disciplinarian, an avid audiophile with a broad taste and range in music, was prone to dancing and singing spontaneously, a drama queen, and possessed an almost paranoid desire for "family" secrets to be kept at all costs. My stepfather was a hardworking man, loved to build things like furniture, cars, toys (which I enjoyed immensely), enjoyed taking road trips to Vegas, Salton Sea, Yuma, Coronado Island, Santa Monica Pier at the spur of the moment. He had a 1963 Olds Cutlass and a 1957 Ford F-150. He had a lot of tools, was like a jack-of-all-trades and he woke up early every morning before dawn and made a pot of coffee and read the morning paper as soon as it hit the front yard. Life was rugged at times, but always survivable. I did my best to understand that I came from New York City and what that meant. It was confusing and not being allowed to talk about it with strangers or in the open compounded the confusion I felt. I did not know it, but I was listed with county services and the doctor I saw as Andrew Mitchell Norden. My stepfather's last name was Lopas. I called him Dad. I had never known any other and he was more than what any kid could hope for in a father. Except for a temper that flared sometimes after long days of work, but in comparison to the rage of other father's in the neighborhood he seemed very reasonable. Everyone called me Andy, while my Dad told me that was short for Android because I was actually a robot kid. I believed this, as I would other things that he told me as a joke when I was very young, and I would get sad sometimes that I was not normal like the other kids. I was always feeling some form of that the rest of my life, even after I was reassured that I was not mechanical or experimental as I had thought. I began to wish I was named something else around that time. It was a wish that was about to grow a little bigger real soon. It was a wish that would never come true unless I did something about it. I began to really understand what the difference between earning something, taking something and wishing for something about this time.
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