Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jerry "Fish" and the Strawberry Shortcake

Jerry “Fish” was your basic “rink rat” down at the Avenue F hockey court in the 1970’s. I'm not really sure how he got the name “fish”, and I never really asked him about it. At 14 years old Jerry stood about 5 foot 5 and was kind of skinny. He had straight dirty blonde shoulder length hair and blue eyes. He usually wore a orange and white “Flyers” jersey that always looked quite dirty when he skated with us. Now we were all at least 18 or 19 years old and much bigger than Jerry. But because this kid was so good, we would always let him join in our choose-up games during the week after school. He was just a real sweet kid that looked up to us older guys, and we in turn always made sure to keep an eye out for him on and off the court.

One day Jerry was real excited because he just got paid from his part time job at a supermarket on 18th avenue. He said he had about 20 bucks in his hockey pants and was looking forward to spending it on something he always wanted. “Hey Ronnie, would you mind giving me a ride over to “Scotto’s” on 13th Avenue after the game?” asked Jerry. “Sure kid, what are you going to buy?” I said. “You know, I always had this dream about what I was going to do with my first paycheck and today it’s coming true” said Jerry. I had no idea what Jerry was going to do, but gladly told him I’d give him a lift to Scotto’s on 13th Avenue. I took off all my goalie equipment and threw it in the trunk of my 73 Buick.” Fish” just kept his equipment on, including his skates and sat in the front seat of my car.

When we got to Scotto’s I was able to get a spot right in front. “Hey Ronnie, can I get you something?” “No thanks Jerry, I’ll just wait here”. Jerry just opened the passenger’s side door and glided on his skates to the entrance of the bakery and opened up the door. About five minutes later Jerry appeared with a big white cake box tied with that red and white string. I guess he bought it for his mom. But then, without warning Jerry sat on the sidewalk in front of the bakery window. He put the box to his mouth and started breaking the string with his teeth. He then opened it up and stuck his hand inside. Before you knew it he had whipped cream and strawberries all over his face and hands. Yeah, that was Jerry’s dream, to buy a strawberry shortcake and just eat it all by himself, even if he didn’t have a fork and knife.

After the league shut down in the mid 80's, I kind of lost track of “Jerry Fish”. From what I heard he wasn’t keeping the best of company down on Ditmas Avenue. And I guess the off-duty cop that shot Jerry to death never saw the same kid I did eating that cake with his hands in front of Scotto’s bakery. No, he just saw some teenage trouble maker trying to steal his car early one Saturday morning in the late 80’s. No one ever really knew if Jerry had a gun that day, although that was the cop’s version. And from what I heard he died right in the car.

An innocence lost is such a terrible waste, I sometimes look at my own son and worry about how fast his path could change. As a parent you just try to do your best and hope they keep with a good crowd. You try to give them their freedom and let them dream for themselves. Even if that dream is simply about eating a strawberry shortcake in front of Scotto’s with their first paycheck.

Ron Lopez

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