The dissimilarity between the Crooks brothers was, how you say, inversely proportional to the similarity of the Baldwin brothers. I’m tempted to used the Jekyll/Hyde allusion, but methinks I did that in some other bit of rambling. Perhaps an even better reference is The Thing With Two Heads, a classic piece of trash featuring Ray Milland and Rosy Grier as the star(s); hell, I’ll toss in The Manster too, a wonderful low budget B&W Japanese/American collaboration that features a guy who… well, you should just rent it, trust me.
I met John Crooks in the heyday of the dance club circuit, when we went to places like The Loft, The Sky-Hop, The Sock-Hop and Uncle Tom’s. These were temples of teen stupidity, where the basic premise was to scope out girls, maybe even dance with them, and then eventually get drunk and scrape your knuckles across some poor bastard’s teeth. You only had to be 18 to drink 3.2 beer in Kansas, but most of us had fake IDs that said we were 21, so we’d get into the joints in KCMO too, where they had hard liquor and one could get righteously twisted before swinging a hunk of rebar at a fellow twistee out in the parking lot. But I digress.
John was kind of a loner, even though he seemed to be on good terms with all of the Italians, which was an important factor in preventing serious altercations. He was a tall, very Italian-looking fellow himself and always stood ramrod straight, his classic black pompadour held in place with Alberto VO-5, the choice of juvenile delinquents everywhere. Like the rest of the hip and cool, he usually wore Italian knit pullovers and Sansabelt pants, finished with the latest stylish pointy-toed shoes and black socks, preferably silk ribbed “thick-and-thins” as we called them. And he had a cool ’51 Chevy two-door fastback, stock but cherryed out.
John never had any problem getting the ladies to dance, as he had a disarming smile and a smooth line of patter, as opposed to a lot of the Neanderthals who lurked around the edges. No doubt the girls also admired his rather healthy package, enhanced by money well spent on alterations. But the bizarre aspect of his physique was a rather protruding set of buttocks. We’re talking almost steatopygian here — get out your dictionary for that one. Before you get the wrong idea, you have to believe me when I say everybody looked at this guy’s ass. I’d hear sweet young things standing next to me talk about it in dulcet, somewhat lascivious tones. I’m sure the cops probably looked at him with suspicions of their own. And of course there were the detractors, who just called him “Bubble Butt.”
Now you stand John Crooks up next to his brother, George, and you would say, no way that’s his brother. George Crooks was the victim of a horrible fucking by Fate. Whatever the physical cause was I never knew, because I didn’t think John wanted to talk about it, and I was too damned scared to even think about asking George. His spine was permanently bent in a kind of sideways curve, and he was unable to swivel his head, which was cocked slightly to one side like a puzzled dog. To top it off, part of one jaw was missing. When you looked at him it was like being in the Funhouse Hall of Mirrors, but it wasn’t one bit funny.
George didn’t have too many friends, and those he did have were just as unhappy with their lot in life. They were all in and out of jail frequently, drunk most of the time and looking for a way to end up back in jail. High school dropouts to a man, they supported themselves by working on cars and stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down. They didn’t give a shit about anything or anybody, and would fight at the drop of a hat. I never heard anybody bragging about duking it out with that bunch, even the crazy Irish bastards that I hung with on occasion.
George had himself a beautiful ’56 Buick Roadmaster, painted white over fire engine red. This was the crew’s primary cruising vehicle. It was widely rumored that George kept a sawed-off 12 gauge in it. On a beautiful, warm, Easter Sunday in the early 60s, George and his playmates were allegedly gadding about, enjoying the scenery in a part of town they would never be able to live in, Mission Hills. There were a number of lawn parties in progress, the family members having attended church and Sunday dinner somewhere, and now settled in for the egg hunts and ice cream and cake. As our boys passed one house, George noticed that some lucky child had received a big fat white bunny which was cavorting about the well-tended lawn, much to the delight of all. The Buick rolled along about a half block, came to an abrupt halt and then roared back in reverse. When it stopped, George came up with the sawed-off and scattered that rabbit all over the place, then laid rubber for about two blocks, laughing maniacally. Or so they say.