Review/Blog: Evening with the Ducky Boys at the Museum of the American Gangster

Back in November, I was asked to do a book reading for Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang at the Museum of the American Gangster in the Lower East Side section of New York City.

I was kinda hesitant to do it because I wouldn’t really call the Ducky Boy “gangsters” since they were like 13-16 years old at the time.  They were tough kids for sure, but there really wasn’t any connection to organized crime.  I expressed my concerns to Lorcan Otway, the awesome curator of the Museum, and he understood my concerns, but told me not to worry..  While his museum has an element of organized crime, its full mission is to show “American Gangs” not just the Mafia.  He also includes the Underground Railroad as an exhibit in his museum, so he is serious about that distinction.  Well, the Ducky Boys are an American gang, so I agreed to doing the reading at the Museum of the American Gangster, and we set the date for Thursday, December 16th, 2010 at 6pm.

I started worrying shortly afterward that doing a book reading on my book might be a little difficult.   If you don’t know already, it is in an “Oral History” format, so it reads almost like a movie script as the interviewees tell the story in their own words – sometimes alone but more often interacting with other interviewees.   Basically my problem was that I would have to read stories with multiple characters speaking.  And I’m not Rich Little – who can do great character impressions…

At one point, I came up with a great idea (to me anyway) – Being that I originally planned this to be a  documentary film  (see my books introduction for how that fell apart), I had the original interviews filmed and digitized on my computer…  So all I had to do was show the clips to the audience and I would kill two birds with one stone.  Not only would it be an interesting take on a book reading, but it would also mean that all the video I shot/digitized/edited wasn’t going to go to waste.   It was win-win all around.    I called Lorcan to see if that was ok with him (and technically feasible), and he thought it was a great idea too, so we were off to the races!

It was about 6 weeks away, so I had some time to prepare..   But I needed to start the promotion process…   Press releases, calls and emails to newspapers and radio stations, and stuff like that…I created the flyer for the event since ex-Ducky Boy Kevin Byrne was willing to go around NYC and post them everywhere.    While talking to Kev, I got the next great idea – Why not have Kevin co-host the event?   I asked Kevin, and while I could tell he was a bit nervous about it, he jumped right on board…   (Have I mentioned lately how awesome Kevin is?  He has always been one of my greatest supporters with this project and has done quite a few things outside of his comfort zone for me… I can honestly say that if this book succeeds, it will have gotten there thanks to Kevin’s help (and a few other people – see my books acknowledgments for a list))   I then asked Lorcan if it was ok, and he also thought this was a great idea…

After a lot of initial promotion, i then started to figure out the outline for the show.     With Lorcan’s help, we established that it would be the presentation, a Q&A session, a tour of the Museum, and a meet & greet with the Author (aka “me” LOL)  – Definitely manageable…

Quick side note:  I know I’m biased about the Museum of the American Gangster since they treated me so nice, but it really is a cool place…  When Lorcan invited me to do a reading there, I didn’t know anything about the museum at all, but after Googling, I got really interested.   The museum used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition and they have recreated the bar area… They also have a bunch of cool stuff in the Museum like:

  • Manville Gun (20 round shotgun!),
  • Tommy Gun,
  • John Dillinger’s actual death mask,
  • Bullets from the killing of Baby Face Nelson,
  • The gun which killed Dean O’Banyon,
  • Shell from Clyde Barrow’s (of Bonnie & Clyde) Browning Automatic Rifle
  • A safe that they found in the basement with millions of bootlegger cash in it
  • Not to mention escape tunnels in the building that also had window triggers that would set off explosive that would take down the building if people tried to break into the secure area…

Check it out if you can – its really cool…

As the event approached, I created the video files that would give a good idea of what the book was all about,

One quick problem to overcome tho.   One of the clips I wanted to use was told to me via email.  So how could I use it?  Simple answer – Get legendary New York City Disc Jockey Pat St. John to read directly from my book on camera.   I can’t promise that it would be as simple of a solution for you, but Mr. St. John has always been great to me, so I asked.  And him, being his normal awesome self did a terrific job.  See the Ducky Origin’s clip below to see…    Pat St. John is one of the nicest people – and my favorite celebrity – Not just for how he treats me, but in how he treats everybody he meets – Unlike a certain “has-been” celebrity who you will see later in this blog..

So with Pat’s video clip, my presentation was ready to go…

THE BIG DAY

Dec 16th came, and Jackie & I braved the NYC traffic during rush hour a week before Christmas.   Drove into Weehawken with our stuff and a handtruck, parked at my job, took the NY Waterways ferry across the river and hopped into a cab – correction: “car service” – Thanks to my pal Prashanth who owns the River View Gourmet Deli (and who was my caterer at the Book release party), he advised me that car service would give me one standard price to get to where I had to go… A cab would have charged me for the time spent in traffic…   Make a note of that for your trip into the city… 🙂

We got to the Museum at 4:30pm, and while it was earlier than expected, Lorcan, Shara and the rest of the great staff took care of us with buttered hot cider and Drake’s Coffee Cakes (how did they know that’s one of my favorite? LOL)   We set up everything for the show, and even had time to go downstairs to the basement to tour the escape tunnels, and the remnants of an old Dutch House!  New York City buildings are really just full of history!!

6pm came, and i got the text message from Kevin that he was running late due to traffic…  I got a little worried that he would be a while, but I needn’t have… When Kev says he’s running late, he only means like 10 minutes… The man knows how to get around the city quickly!

I started the presentation, and for some odd reason, I wasn’t really that nervous…  Maybe it was that I knew the material very well and wasn’t worried about not having enough to talk about – Hell as anyone knows, I can go on and on about the Ducky Boys… (You’ve seen my posts LOL)  However, I can’t discount the fact that I went to a few hypnotic sessions with my friend James Giunta of Tranceformation Hypnosis to overcome the nervousness surrounding public events related to my book – and they might just have worked…  That whole experience will be the subject of a future blog, but for right now, all you need to know is that (a) James Giunta is an awesome hypno-therapist, and (b) he is having an event in Red Bank, NJ on January 4th, 2011  called World Hypnotism Day 2011 – Check the links out for the details – I will actually be there as a sponsor signing my book in support of my friend, and as someone who has been helped by him…  (FYI Jimmy also helped me while filming the documentary – see page 151 of the book to see how he risked losing a nut to help me)

I got thru the presentation with only minor technical glitches…   Its kinda serendipitous, but the Museum’s DVD player started acting flaky on the clip that I was on the fence about even showing.  It was a clip of Ducky Boy Bob “Rocky” Rockwell explaining the differences between the three gangs that were the inspiration for the movie Wanderers gang.   And the clip was kinda confusing in how it was worded.   When I wrote the book, I cleaned it up a little bit to be less confusing.  I ended up reading the clearer book description on-stage – which worked so much better – the DVD glitch actually helped me give a better presentation – Go figure 🙂

After the presentation, it was time for some Q&A – And I was surprised just how many questions Kevin & I got asked!  And pretty thoughtful ones from people who were paying attention during the show!   Questions relating to the ethnic makeup of the Ducky vs the other gangs in the neighborhoods, what Kevin’s opinion of the Ducky Boys portrayal in the Wanderers, Ace Frehley’s involvement, etc…  The questions were coming for at least a half-hour, and I loved hearing them – it shows that people are interested in the subject (and possibly my presentation LOL)   I don’t know how we started talking about my (completely unrealistic) future plans for a Ducky Boy Museum at Kevin’s childhood house, but people seemed into it…   I think we’d have to find a LOT more people to actually think about it realistically, but wouldn’t that be the coolest thing?

After the Q&A, people split off into groups – some went on the museum tour, and some hung back and bought signed books (cha-ching) from me…  Then the first tour came back and a new group came back – There was quite a lot of flow back and forth….   Eventually 9pm hit, and the first “Evening with the Ducky Boys” event was officially over…

I have to admit, I really enjoyed the whole experience, and was surprised at how laid back and stress-free the night was.   The Museum staff was great, and it really seemed everyone had a good time.   The best part is that Lorcan asked if I would like to do it again in the future (preferably AFTER the holidays when NYC traffic is not in crazy holiday mode) – I absolutely would do it again!

The postscript to the evening is that my friend Jeff Hornlien & I went to Katz Deli afterwards for some pastrami on rye to-go while Jackie & Loiza sat in the car.    The sandwiches were expensive, but thats not whats note-worthy.  David Johanssen of the New York Dolls was in there with his girlfriend and was leaving right after us.   Jeff saw him first, and he wanted me to go talk to him since I had met him a few months earlier down at the Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ.   Based on that meeting, I really didn’t want to talk to him since he wasn’t all that friendly that time.   Jeff then asked me to take a picture of Jeff with Johanssen – which was fine, but the camera was in the car…  So I ran to get it…

While getting the camera, I heard Jeff asking if he could take a picture…  All I heard was “NAWWWW!” and Jeff’s surprised reaction..  When I looked over, I saw Johanssen walking away and Jeff having that same look when we got snubbed by Ace Frehley (While I was wearing my Ducky Boy shirt – Ace was a Ducky if you don’t kn0w – Wow I just realized that Jeff was wearing his Ducky Boy shirt that day – mental note:  don’t talk to celebrities while wearing it)    Jeff came back to the car, and told us that when the girlfriend saw Jeff coming up to Johanssen, she snottily went “Here it comes…” right before he shot Jeff down…   What dicks…  The girlfriends not even that attractive – Think a chubby Amy Winehouse…   And I got a picture of  Johanssens car at the Record Collector – It was a piece of crap car with (no joke) the bumper being held on by bungee cords…  Needless to say, we trashed the two of them for much of the ride home…   We stopped being bummed when we realized we had a perfect “Lower East-Side Story” for the evening LOL

A second post-script to this story is that earlier today (Sunday) I took two of the video clips from Thursday’s event, and posted them on YouTube..

Clip #1:    Ducky Whistle: Lost Boys of the Bronx: Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang

Clip #2:   Ducky Boys Gang Origins – Book: Lost Boys of the Bronx: the Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang

Hope you enjoyed this TALE FROM THE LANTERN – feel free to comment on it and please share it if you think it’s interesting enough…
Till Next time

-=James

 

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