Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody

Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody

by A.A. Freda


Publisher FriesenPress

Published in Literature & Fiction/Coming of Age, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

Who is the mysterious Rudy Kazoody, and what, if anything, did he have to do with the events that occurred to a group of teenagers during one fateful summer in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood in the early 1960s?

Growing up is difficult enough. But when you’re a recent immigrant arriving in a country that is going through its own coming-of-age process, fueled by rock ‘n’ roll, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, free love, the pill, LSD, and the Cold War, it’s downright confusing, and for some—lethal.​From the euphoria of first love to the despair of dashed dreams and betrayal.

Sample Chapter

A Sleepwalker

Dunk the pail, fill it up, pass it on. Dunk the pail, fill it up, pass it on.

The grueling task of bailing water out of the ship’s bottom takes on a rhythmic, musical quality. One of the boys on the bucket brigade must have similar thoughts, because he begins singing an old, familiar pirate song. The others in the queue chime in, increasing the pace of their work to match the song’s beat.

We’re making progress. The water level at the bottom of the boat, which was up to my knees, is only ankle high now. The repair of the bilge pump helped. Without the pump, our line could never have kept up with the water gushing through the hole in the hull of the old vessel. Someone nailed a tarp over the gap in a futile attempt to block the incoming water, but it isn’t much help. Water still pours into the galley through the sides of the tarp. The bobbing motion of the craft, which made me sick earlier, is almost bearable now.

I feel a tug on my shirt. I look behind, and it’s Betty, water streaming down her face from the hood of her poncho.

“Anthony wants to see you atop!” she yells into my ear, wiping the water from her face with the back of her hand.

“What for?”

“I don’t know. He asked me to come and get you. You’ll need this.”

She hands me a poncho.

I turn to one of the boys on break. “Aldo, take my place in line! I have to go with Betty!”

Betty scurries up the wet metal steps the instant Aldo relieves me, so sure-footed she doesn’t bother holding onto the banister. Having no such skills, I clutch the guardrail with each step.

The moment my head lifts above the hatch, the driving rain hits me in the face, compelling me to pull the face cord of my poncho tighter.

As I climb on deck, the ship lurches to one side, knocking me into the ship’s rail. I reach for the railing, but my hand slips off the wet surface. At that moment, a wave lifts the boat into the air, knocking me off my feet and sending me sliding down the deck on my back. Luckily, my right foot jams into a scupper, ending my trip down the boat. Before I can get to my feet, another wave engulfs the boat. Completely submerged, I lose my bearings. Then a hand grasps my collar and yanks me to my feet.

“Hold on to the lifeline along the side and follow me!” Betty shouts before releasing her grip.

Clutching the precious rope, I inch forward behind Betty, tilting my head down to shield my eyes from the driving rain, which appears to be coming sideways. I can’t believe the change in the weather. A half hour earlier, the sun was shining. The squall came out of nowhere, catching us by surprise.

Finally, I reach the stairway leading to the bridge. Gripping both guardrails, I make my way upstairs. Another wave slams into the boat, and my feet slide out from under me. Clutching the rails, I regain my footing and scurry up the steps.

Once atop, Betty holds the pilothouse door open. Inside, Spike is at the helm. Judy is sitting on the floor in the corner with her head resting against the wall. She looks awful, all the color drained from her face. Betty hands me a towel as I knock back the hood of my poncho.

“What’s the matter with you?” I ask Judy.

“Ooh, I’m so sick,” she moans.

“Leave her alone, and come here; she’s just seasick,” Spike says. Then he turns to me. “Are you all right?”

“I’ve been better,” I reply as I dry myself. “How are we doing?”

“Not good. Going against the current is a slow process.”

“Why don’t you turn the boat about and head down river?”

“The current is so strong. I’d have no control of the ship. I’m afraid we’d crash into the riverbank.”

I look out the window. “Do you think the storm will blow over soon?”

He shrugs. “It’s hard to say. Sometimes these squalls pass as quickly as they come. It doesn’t matter, though. The river will continue rising for hours after the storm ends.”

A wave lifts the ship and heaves her to the side, causing the wheel to spin out of Spike’s hands. The vessel’s beam broaches the wave, putting it in danger of capsizing. When the boat comes to rest, it’s heading toward the shoreline. Spike grabs the wheel and swings the craft around, narrowly missing the riverbank.

“That was close!” I exclaim once Spike regains control. “I thought we were done for!”

“Let the stupid boat sink!” Judy yells from the corner. “Drowning can’t possibly be worse than how I feel.”

“Listen, I have an assignment for you,” Spike says to me, ignoring Judy’s outburst. “It’s kind of dangerous, but it’s also important. We’re going to be coming to a spot on the river where the riverbank rises almost to the height of the ship. The water near the shore is very deep. I’m going to get the boat as close to the bank as possible, say within five or ten feet. When we pass by that spot, I want you to jump and try to land ashore. There’s a bridge spanning the river just north of that spot. That’s the main road to a small town. I need you to go to that town and get help.”

“Why can’t we just ride out the storm?” I ask. “I’d rather ride it out with you, Betty, Judy, and the guys.”

Spike glances at Betty. “You see what I mean, Betty? Make one mistake, and everybody second guesses you.” He turns back to me. “I’m sorry I screwed up. I thought I could outrun the storm. The weather turned faster than I anticipated, but now I need your help. There’s a hairline crack in the hull, port side. It begins where the hole is in the bow and heads astern. The ship won’t last long. One more good wave, and it’ll come apart.”

He nods out the window. “Soon, we’ll reach a small island just past that bridge I told you about. The island has a sheltered cove with a nice sandy beach. My plan is to run the ship aground there. We’ll disembark and try to ride out the storm on the island until you get back with help. Try not to take long. The way the river is rising, the island could be under water soon.”

Spike looks me straight in the eyes. “Are you going to help, or are you going to be your usual self, on the sidelines looking in?”

I pause for a moment and then nod. “I’ll do it. Which side will I be jumping from? Did you say port side?”

“No, starboard. Betty will go down with you and show you the way. You better get going; we’re almost there.”

I reach into a locker and pull out a life jacket. As I’m strapping it on, I notice a big grin on Spike’s face.

“What’s so funny?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Nothing.” His smile is noticeably wider.

I pull the hood of my poncho over my head, tie it in place, and follow Betty out.

She leads me down the steps amidships, unhinges the rail of the gangway, and turns to me. “Move back a little so you can get a running start. I’ll signal when it’s time to jump. Try to jump as far as you can. I’ll try to time my signal so you leap when the ship is at the crest of the wave. Good luck!” She kisses me on the cheek. Her lips are ice cold.

Moving back about ten feet, I crouch down to await Betty’s signal. I make the sign of the cross and pray my jump will reach land. The raging water sends shivers down my spine.

Suddenly, Spike’s joke comes to me. The life jacket will do nothing if I don’t clear the river. If I don’t make land, staying afloat will be the least of my problems. With that realization, I remove the cumbersome jacket and drop it to the deck. It will only hamper my jump anyway.

“Now,” Betty screams!

Startled by her shout, I run and leap into the darkness. Unbelievably, I land on shore, face down into the mud.

It takes a moment to gather myself. Wiping the mud from my eyes, I look upriver for the boat, but it’s already out of sight. I pray for their safety. It’s up to Spike to bring them through; it’s totally under his control.

I pause to take stock of my whereabouts. I’m on a small piece of land that juts out into the river like a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. If I had landed a few feet to my right or left, I would have fallen into the icy water. An embankment about eight feet high is in front of me. The outline of the bridge, some two hundred yards to my left, is barely visible.

Leaping to my feet, I climb up the embankment, not getting more than a couple of feet up the muddy slope before I slide back down. The riverbank is so muddy it’s impossible to get a hold. I try again, this time reaching within inches of the top before sliding back down. Moving back to the edge of the shoreline to get a running start, I make a mad dash up the cliff, only to fall a few inches short once again. If only I were a little taller. As I pick myself up and wipe the mud off my hands and face, I gaze up at the summit and see a bizarre sight that takes me aback.

A man is standing at the top of the cliff dressed in black, a large Stetson on his head. How can he keep that hat on his head in such a storm? He kneels down and, without saying a word, stretches his arm toward me. Hesitating, I gaze at the stranger to get a better gauge of him. Should I trust him? His face seems curiously familiar.

From a distance, I hear banging, like someone is knocking at a door. A muffled sound of a boy screaming follows the noise. Has something happened to the boat?

“Come on, give me your hand,” the stranger says in a deep southern drawl. “I’ll help you up.”

I can’t afford to waste any more time. I grab his outstretched hand, and he yanks me towards him. Digging my foot into the side of the cliff and giving a final heave, I land on top, face down in the mud once again. I hear a barely audible sound in the distance, like someone singing, accompanied by garbled shouts. Again, I wipe the mud from my eyes. The stranger is staring, smiling, his tanned face somewhat familiar, and then it hits me: It’s the buckaroo, Buck Owens!

◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆

Suddenly, I wake up from my nightmare, gasping for air. Despite the coolness of the night, I’m soaked in my own sweat. I decide that’s the last time I’m eating a whole bag of Chips Ahoy cookies with a quart of milk before going to bed.

A moment passes before I become aware of the loud music coming through my bedroom window from downstairs. It’s a Buck Owens record. I also hear people shouting out their apartment windows.

“Turn the damn music off! Don’t you know what time it is?”

The clock on my end table shows 4:10 a.m. Who could be playing music so loud at this hour?

Then I hear banging at my front door.

“Uncle Sal! Uncle Sal! Wake up, we need you downstairs,” my cousin Vito yells for my father. “Please, Uncle Sal, wake up. We need you!”

Now fully awake and alert, I jump out of bed and run out of my room to see what’s wrong. My parents and sister are already in the hall.

“What’s the matter?” my father asks Vito when he opens the door.

“It’s Spike. He’s sleepwalking. He’s locked himself in the clubhouse and is blasting music,” Vito explains, rushing to get the words out. “Mom needs you to come downstairs right away!”

“Just give me a second to get my coat, and I’ll come down with you,” my father says.

I run back in my room for my jacket, throw it over my pajamas, and follow my dad and Vito downstairs.

“Where in the world do you think you’re going?” my mother cries.

“With them!”

“Oh no, you’re not. It’s four in the morning, and you’ve got school tomorrow. Go back to sleep!”

Just then, my dad comes out of his room and heads out of the apartment, followed by Vito. I bolt after them before my mother has a chance to protest any further.

When we reach the courtyard, Aunt Lucy and several of the neighbors are standing in front of the clubhouse door. Inside, Spike has the phonograph volume cranked. The song is the same country tune I heard earlier.

“What happened?” my father asks Aunt Lucy when we get there.

“I don’t know!” she shouts over the music. “I was sleeping when I heard the music coming from downstairs. When I looked into Anthony’s room, I noticed he wasn’t there. That’s when I realized he must be the one in the clubhouse playing the record. When I got down here, the door was locked, and Anthony wouldn’t answer.”

“Does anybody have a key?” my father yells at the people in the courtyard.

“It’s bolted from the other side,” one of the onlookers replies. “And the metal door is too heavy to break down.”

I run over to the other side of the building where a window affords a view into the clubhouse. Pulling a garbage can under the window, I climb on top to get a look.

Spike is standing on top of the coffee table wearing his pajama bottoms and nothing else. He’s holding a broom, strumming the handle as if he’s playing a guitar, singing along with the music playing on the phonograph. He’s oblivious to anything going on around him, singing that same self-deprecating Buck Owens song over and over again. Watching Spike sing that song is somewhat of a surprise. Spike isn’t much of a music fan; he’s one of the few kids who doesn’t own a record player.

“What’s he doing?” my father asks when he gets to me, followed by Aunt Lucy.

After I tell him, he turns to Aunt Lucy. “At least he’s not doing anything to hurt himself.”

“That doesn’t mean he won’t try. Remember the last time?” she replies, not swayed by his reassurance. “Sal, we need to get in there right away!”

By now, more tenants of the building have made their way into the courtyard. Many others are looking out of their apartment windows. Despite the hour, it looks like everybody in both buildings is awake. They’re discussing the event no differently than if it were two in the afternoon instead of four in the morning.

“We should call the fire department,” one of the neighbors suggests. “They can break down the door.”

“Someone, please call the fire department!” another yells up at the people looking out their windows.

“I’ll do it!” a man on the third floor volunteers.

Within minutes, the firefighters are there. Betty’s father, Mister Sargent, is one of the men who answers the alarm.

“What’s the matter?” the big, bulky firefighter asks as he comes into the courtyard.

“It’s Anthony,” my aunt informs him. “He’s locked himself inside and won’t open the door. I think he’s sleepwalking.”

With that, one of the other firefighters runs back to the fire truck and returns with a sledgehammer. The sledgehammer does the trick. After two blows, the lock splits, and the door bursts open. The disturbance of smashing open the door does nothing to dissuade Spike’s singing. It’s only when Mr. Sargent turns off the record player that he finally stops.

As the music ends, Spike turns to stare at the man, a blank expression on his face. He doesn’t appear to recognize Betty’s father. Mr. Sargent takes Spike’s hand and helps him off the table. Then Mr. Sargent takes off his rubberized jacket and drapes it around Spike’s shoulders. With his arm around Spike, he escorts him out of the clubhouse. As they walk out of the courtyard, I hop off the garbage can and follow them out into the street.

Attracted by all of the emergency vehicles, the street outside is even more crowded with bystanders than the courtyard. Fat Augie is part of the throng, wearing a blue robe and smoking one of his huge cigars. Our neighbor, Mrs. Maderno, peeks her head from behind Augie to get a look.

“Is he all right?” Augie asks Mr. Sargent as they walk by.

“Yes, I think he’s going to be just fine.”

None of my friends are around except for Twitchy, who never sleeps.

“Did you get the priest?” Augie asks, when he notices Twitchy.

“Father Diritto is on his way; he’s just getting dressed,” Twitchy replies, his eyes blinking wildly. “He’ll be here soon.”

“La faccia del diavolo!” Mrs. Maderno shouts as Spike walks by.

“What did you say?” Aunt Lucy demands, having heard Mrs. Maderno’s statement from behind Spike.

“Don’t pay her any mind,” Dad says.

“Did she just call my son ‘the devil’?” Aunt Lucy asks.

“Ignore the old fool,” Dad advises. “You need to take care of Anthony.”

Aunt Lucy points her finger at Maderno. “I’ll talk to you later!”

In the street, two fire trucks and three police cars are parked in front of the building. An ambulance has just pulled up. The red bubble lights flashing atop of all of the emergency vehicles reflect off the walls of the apartment buildings and provide a strange, carnival-like atmosphere. The entire avenue appears to be out of bed. Hundreds of people on both sides of the street look out their windows. Two paramedics come out of the ambulance, and one of them takes the firefighter’s jacket off Spike and wraps him in a blanket instead. Then he bends down and puts a pair of slippers on Spike’s bare feet. Spike stands there listless, not acknowledging anybody, offering neither help nor resistance.

“I think we should take Anthony to the hospital overnight just as a precaution,” Betty’s father suggests to my aunt.

“But he’s fine,” Aunt Lucy insists. “Anthony was just sleepwalking. He’s probably very tired. All he needs is to go back to bed and get some rest.” It’s more of an appeal than a statement.

Father Diritto arrives just as my aunt is finishing her remark. “Look, Lucy, I’m sure Anthony is fine; it’s just a precaution. They’ll check him out and make absolutely certain nothing’s wrong. I’ll go to the hospital with him and stay by his side until you arrive later in the day. I won’t leave him alone, not even for a minute. I promise.”

“Listen to the man, Lucy. He makes sense,” my father urges.

“But he’s fine,” she insists meekly, her lips quivering, her hands fidgeting.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Father Diritto answers, “but don’t you think it’s better to play it safe?”

With that, she relents.

“I just need to get some information,” one of the paramedics says to Aunt Lucy while the other escorts Spike into the ambulance.

While the paramedic takes the information from Aunt Lucy, Twitchy and I approach the back of the ambulance. Spike is sitting on one of the side benches, his head back, eyes closed, legs outstretched, hands clasped over his stomach.

“Is he asleep?” Twitch asks me, his irrepressible eyes still opening and shutting uncontrollably.

“Spike, are you all right?” I ask.

He opens his eyes slowly and turns to look at me, but he doesn’t say a thing. He gives no indication of recognition as he closes his eyes again.

“Hey Spike, it’s me, Twitchy. Are you okay?”

Spike’s eyes open ever so slightly, the movement of his eyeballs in Twitch’s direction barely discernible beneath his eyelids. His lips contort into a faint smile.

“Hey, Twitch. How’s it going? You seen Rudy Kazoody?”

“No, Spike. I haven’t seen him,” Twitchy replies, his ever-blinking eyes still opening and shutting incessantly.

“Well, I saw him tonight,” Spike says, turning his head to look straight ahead once more, staring blankly at the side of the ambulance.

“You saw Rudy Kazoody?” Twitch asks, the oppressive blinking stopping momentarily.

Before Spike can respond, the paramedic and Diritto come over and get inside the ambulance. Just as the attendant is about to shut the door, Twitchy grabs ahold of it.

“Spike, I’ll come see you at the hospital later. Take care of yourself. Remember what you always told me.”

“Hold on tight and fight as hard as you can,” Twitch and Spike utter in unison.

Twitch releases the door, and the paramedic slams it shut. Twitchy and I stand motionless as we watch the ambulance pull away.

“Who broke the window in the clubhouse?” I ask Twitchy.

“What?” Twitch stares at me without blinking. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“The other day, I noticed the window to the clubhouse was cracked. I thought you might know how it broke.”

“Who cares about that stupid window?” Twitch’s eyes blink wildly once again. “I think it’s always been cracked. Spike is being hauled away in an ambulance, and you’re worried about a stupid, damn window?”

“Spike’s going to be alright,” I reply. “Father Diritto said he’s coming home tomorrow. He’s just going to the hospital to be checked out.“

Twitch glares at me and then gives an incredulous shrug. The blinking stops long enough to allow me to notice the moisture accumulating in his eyes.

“You’re such a jerk. Spike’s not coming home tomorrow.” With that, Twitch turns and heads home.

“Joey, you better get upstairs,” Dad, says. “Tell your mother I’ll come up in a little while. I’m going to stay a few minutes with your aunt.”

Curiously, when I arrive upstairs, my normally inquisitive mother doesn’t bother to ask what happened. She simply tells me to go to sleep, goes into the kitchen, and sits at the table to wait for my father. With Twitch’s revelation about Spike not coming home reverberating in my head, I walk to my room and slump back into bed.

There’ll be no more sleep tonight.


Excerpted from "Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody" by A.A. Freda. Copyright © 2016 by A.A. Freda. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

A.A. Freda

A.A. Freda

Like many of the characters in his novel, A. A. Freda arrived in America as an immigrant and grew up in the same Bronx neighborhood in which the events of Rudy Kazoody take place. His book is an exploration of the emotions and experiences that he and many of his fellow teenagers experienced as they came of age in the tumultuous 1960s neighborhood.

View full Profile of A.A. Freda

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