The blues legend
recount sweathoggin’ days in Queens, and how
it was often less
Welcome Back, Kotter than a dramatic movie-of-the-week.




Flushing High School in Queens,
New York is now a hall of fine
education complete with towering walls and a mostly Asian student body. I went
there from 1975-78 during the height of the worst period the New York school system ever saw. I am
talking anything from Welcome Back Kotter pranks to movie-of-the-week drama. I remember desks set on fire, hallway
extortions, beatdowns, and dodgy security guards-but that’s not the worst of


I was dubbed a loser, mostly because I preferred to sit on
the school lawn smoking weed and playing Led Zeppelin songs on my acoustic
guitar than go to class.


Gym was my favorite class to cut because in that class
anything could-and probably would-happen. One day someone would take a
basketball to the head, another day there would be a locker-room beatdown.
Occasionally, the creepy gym teacher groped a kid. And the locker rooms were an
indignity no kid should have to endure. All in all gym was a humiliating
experience that could leave you gasping for breath or sobbing like a baby. You
can see why smoking dope and playing music seemed like a much better idea.


One day while roaming the halls, I came upon a girl being
molested by two guys in a stairwell. Jill Costanza was a year older than me
with long raven hair, a tight sweater and sultry brown eyes. She was one of the
most beautiful-and well-endowed girls in school. To say she’d ever noticed me
would be an overstatement, but that afternoon fate brought us together in a way
neither of us would forget.


As they groped and manhandled her, I yelled and ran at them.
They promptly fled, but I recognized one of the attackers as Tiny Sanchez, the
younger brother of the head of a notorious Queens
gang called The Savage Skulls. Tiny weighed about 220 and wore the trademark
cut-off denim jacket that signified he was a Skulls pledge. The gang was known to
carry golf clubs and use them in ways Tiger Woods would have never considered.
I knew if Tiny told his big brother that I’d seen him that he’d schedule a tee
time with my head.


Jill and I were hauled into the dean’s office and questioned
separately. Dean Hirsch had it in for me. I’d already spent many a day in his
office listening to him declare me a lost cause. I loathed his fetid tobacco
breath and wannabe greaser hairdo, and I could see my credibility problem in
his bloodshot eyes. If I talked, he wouldn’t believe me. So I said nothing.


Later that evening, as I sat in a fog of marijuana smoke
trying to figure out what to do, Jill called. She begged me not to tell. I told
her not to worry, that I’d kept my mouth shut. Also, I knew her boyfriend-a
major jock-would deal with it.


Sure enough, the next day Tiny was lumped up bad. All
evidence, and my already stellar reputation with Dean Hirsch, pointed to me as
the lumper, even though it was Jill’s boyfriend who beat the punk up. Again, I
was hauled down to the dean’s office.


I’ll never forget this bullying hunk of stinking shit trying
everything-including slapping me senseless-to get me to tell. He circled behind
my chair like a Nazi commandant, interrogating me. ‘Tell us vhat you know!’ Then, pow!,
he cracked me in the back of the head. ‘Ze
beatings vill continue und-til morale improvez!’


Once more I kept my mouth shut. Justice had taken its
course, as far I was concerned. As it turned out, Tiny’s brother found out what
he did and beat him down again. Alas, I may have been off the hook with the
Skulls, but not with Dean Hirsch. Anything I said or didn’t say would have been
held against me.


After a week of harassment I was suspended from school-and I
never went back. Instead, I joined a local band and played Stones and Zeppelin
covers when I should have been graduating. I think in the long run they did me
a favor.


Dean Hirsch, I wish you a happy time in Hell!


Popa Chubby occupies a
unique circle of hell with his fire ‘n’ brimstone blues fretwork (and more… trust us!).
His latest album is
The Fight Is On,
released by Blind Pig. Details, music, videos and tour dates at his MySpace


 [Photo Credit: Michael Kurgansky]


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