A Time Out of Time

Will Delizia left this earth last April. He was 57. He was pried apart by a pernicious form of cancer that responded to chemicals in the interim but ultimately gave him up. Luckily, he didn’t suffer long and he never lost his spirit or resolve. That was Will true to the bone.

I met him in the mid-‘70s. On the surface it was innocent enough. We were both at Atco Dragway one humid afternoon, watching the shakedown runs of a Pro Stock Monza. Its owner was a mutual friend and had rented the track time. I’d arrived in a sparkling Mercedes coupe, a perk of the new-car writing that I was doing then. He’d come in his new Thunderbird, clearly several status notches below the shark that I was driving.

I supposed he had made a comment, a challenge, about the car and person who drove it simply because he did not know me and because it irked him that someone had a higher-status car than he. The crux came a few minutes later as he dredged up a wad of phlegm and directed it at the hood of the Benz. A fine hit it was. Without hesitation, I responded in kind to the dark blue T-Bird. I loogied on Will’s car. Several of his cronies went mute; they looked at one another as if I’d defiled a nun, their eyes brimming with the portent of my act and that I’d be lucky if he didn’t slap the shit out of me right then and there. He had more than fifty pounds and several inches on me and could conjure a smoldering countenance that would shrivel a crocodile. His eyes narrowed and his jaw locked but he didn’t move or say a word, dumbfounded as he obviously was.

In his defense, he was brought up in neighborhoods where people got snuffed for seemingly trivial transgressions, things like trying to usurp someone else’s hot dog cart territory. Respect and loyalty ran very high in those days. The social hierarchy was very distinct. There were lines that were not crossed under pain of a severe beating or worse. This wasn’t gang related or anything such. It was just how it was. Where I grew up, it was couple of rocks through the windows of an abandoned house or lobbing snowballs at passing cars and the occasional tussle in the school yard. I was no fighter. I was entering a world where I did not belong.