Rumbles on E. 49th: 'Hey, stupid' and five-on-one fighting

‘Hey, stupid!’

Occasionally, there was impending battle between two groups that could be avoided by invoking the “Doyaknow Protocol.” 

The Doyaknow Protocol worked this way: One of the potential combatants would say to a representative of the opposing force, “Where are you from?” Upon hearing the location and if he knew someone from that neighborhood he would say, “Do ya know so and so?”

If the answer was no, the opposing would choose another person and again say, “Then do ya know so and so?”  These negotiations continued and, in many cases, a common acquaintance was found. 

If a common acquaintance was found who was on good terms with both parties, violence was averted, and a moratorium was put in place. No war today!

One day, an altercation between two kids took place at school. No blows were struck, but it was agreed that they would meet at Addison Road and Superior Avenue at 8 p.m. that night and could bring as many friends as they wanted to. This was serious.

That neighborhood was the territory of the Marnells boys from Addison and Superior, who started making phone calls to their allies.

Our “Red Phone” was in a phone booth on our corner. We had stripped of some on the insulation on the phone wire and when you touched the bare wire to metal you got a dial tone and a free call.  Hey, it was our corner, and we were entitled to a free phone.

When we got our call, we started rounding up guys and got to the location about a half an hour before the fight was supposed to start. I took my late grandfather’s straight razor. Yeah, I know, but I can assure you that it was just for show. I showed it around and everyone said, “Cool!”

I was feeling pretty impressive when suddenly a voice inside my head said, “Hey stupid, did it occur to you that because you brought that thing that you will be expected to use it?’ I said to the voice, “Well no, I didn’t consider that; I would never use it! I was just showing off.” 

The voice said, “So, don’t you think you had better get rid of it?” I said, “Gulp! I guess I better.” So, I went down an alley and left it on a windowsill.

Well, I guess the scenario of about 25 guys hanging around in front of a shoe store looked a little suspicious because someone called the police. Four police cars pulled up and one of the cops asked us, “What time is the rumble?” We said, “What   rumble, Officer?  We were just talking.” 

Yeah, sure, 25 guys just showed up to just talk to each other. What did you expect us to say?  “We were all just looking in this shoe store window hoping to buy 25 pairs of shoes, but we didn’t see anything we liked, officer.” The police made us leave and we all went our separate ways. The other guys probably never showed up anyway and I didn’t retrieve the razor. I felt too stupid about it to ever want to see it again.

Five on one—the one being me                                                                                                                      

We—me and my teenage associates—had something in common: We walked everywhere.

Almost no one had a car. On one of these walks something interesting happened to me and my girlfriend. We were walking back from a dance at St. Phillip Neri Church on East 82nd Street and I sensed something behind us. I glanced back and realized that five tough looking teenage boys were following us close behind.

I continued walking but I knew I was in trouble. Suddenly, two of them walked past us and pushed me into a narrow alley. All five of them commenced to pound on me. I fought back but was no match for five of them.

I broke off from the melee and said, “I’ll fight all of you but one at time.”

Their leader told them to back off and they did. He then sent one of his flunkies at me. I somehow started to pound the crap out of him. He backed off, and another one came at me. Same story—I was letting him have it too.

I was not known to be a tough guy, but the inner-city 1950s axiom was true: “Take your licks and keep on firing away.”

At that point I heard the leader say, “What the hell is wrong with you guys? Let me have him.” As he approached me, I saw that he was a guy who had the honor of being one of the toughest guys at East High School.

I thought, “I am dead meat.” But a miracle happened. Somebody must have called the police because a police car pulled up to the front of an alley. Before the police got out of their car, we all stopped the ruckus and calmly started to walk out of the alley to peacefully go our separate ways.

The cops were confused but did not stop us. The altercation was over, I thought. Wrong!  A week later my girlfriend and I were attending another dance at the same church. At one point I thought I would find a place to sneak a smoke. I left the dance floor and found a long hallway that would suffice for a smoke break.

After a few minutes I heard pounding on the door at the end of the long hallway and saw some guys that were shouting, “Let us in, we don’t have money to pay the admission.” No big thing. I started walking to the door to let them in. As I got closer, I saw that it was the guys who tried to pulverize me a week earlier.

I immediately knew that if I didn’t let them in, this episode would go on forever. I opened the door. As they came in and saw that it was me, to my surprise, they said “Hey, it’s you.” They were patting me on the back and saying, “You did really good last week. No hard feelings?” I replied, “No hard feelings.” And it was over!

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.