Monday, May 12, 2008

The Concrete of Kensington

The other day I dug up some old pictures of my block. The black and white photo’s had to be from about 1968, they were pictures I took with a camera I was given on my eleventh birthday.

As I closely examined the photographs, there was just something so different about my block, and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was.

So I decided to walk outside onto my front porch and look at my street and sidewalk some forty years later.

Lets see, there were more trees on the block back then, and the cars were bigger. Hell, a Cadillac in the 60's had fins so big and sharp you could easily get impaled while running the wrong way playing Frisbee football. The back of our 2005 Nissan Quest is kids stuff compare to a pointy Caddy fin you know. And there were a hell of a lot more kids on the block too, and most of the garbage cans were made of metal instead of plastic.

Hmm, but there had to be something else…
Maybe the people?

Well, the Kochets who lived two doors down were no longer alive. They both actually moved away from Park Slope in the 1960’s because their block was getting pretty terrible. In fact if my memory serves me right they lived on Third street between Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue. But don’t worry, they always believed the area would change and never sold their big apartment building somewhere near the corner. And they were able to bask in the glory of a gentrified Park Slope at least until they died, by collecting a nice rent while they were both retired in Kensington that is.

Hmm, but there had to be something else…
Maybe the Blanks?

Oh right, Mr. and Mrs. Blank, my next-door neighbors.

They could be seen sitting on the porch of their house at 403 East 4th at almost any time of the day. Just like two NYPD security cameras of the new millennium, the Blank’s were the eyes and ears of the block. In fact I’m sure Mrs. Blank, a very good friend of my Mom’s, kept my Mother updated on anything that I may have done wrong while playing on the block. Yes the Blanks, just perched on their porch like two birds on a branch, watching the world go by on a sunny Kensington day.

But still, there had to be something else….
Maybe our ice-cream man?

Oh right, Morris the chain-smoking ice cream man, Now we had the greatest ice cream man in the world, and his name was Morris. He was tall and skinny, wore a pure white ice cream mans uniform and chain-smoked to no end. As he handed you your ice cream bar it was hard not to notice that his hands were a yellowish green color, and let me tell you it wasn’t from the lemon ices either. But nevertheless he was the nicest man you would ever meet and always let us slide if we didn’t have enough money. And if you believe in Cryonics like we did, then there still may come a day when he comes back to life. Because I was told they kept him frozen in the ice cream truck after he died of lung cancer back in 1974.

Could you imagine a chain-smoking ice cream in the “politically correct” Park Slope of 2008? The thought of it just cracks me up.

But still, there had to be something else different about my block, something very different. And maybe it just wasn’t the people
after all.

So I went back inside and picked up the old collection of black and white photos. After about a minute of staring into 1968, there they were! right before my very eyes! How could I have missed them, they were there all the time!

The long patches of green grass that ran parallel to the sidewalks along my street are now practically all gone. Beautiful glimpses of Mother Nature just buried under a few bags of Home Depot Portland Cement. How awful and disgusting is it that that the grass is gone. Yes, these pleasant little fields of dreams that made our block resemble Ditmas Park rather than Sunset Park, are now just a faded memory in an old photograph.

And if you ever walked up my block, you can get an idea of how pretty it used to be too. The elderly woman that owns the corner house on Beverley Road and East 4th, has a long beautiful patch of grass that extends the entire length of her house up East 4th street towards Avenue C. I am still amazed that this wonderful long green strip of beauty has lasted as long as me, because it certainly takes a lot more effort to maintain than concrete. And you better believe that I always thank her for having that grass, because it makes the gateway to our street more than just wonderful.

Oh, and by the way, she knew my Mom too and remembers me when I was a little kid. Except she was too far down the block to report back to my mom on anything I may have been doing wrong. And probably didn't see me roll that empty baby carraige in the street anyway.

But back to the grass, the grass, where is all the grass and how can we get it back?

Ok, so let me tell you how I made a difference to get back some of the grass we lost.

My concrete driveway had to be the ugliest thing you have ever seen. It was totally cracked and oil stained beyond belief. I had a dream of making it a “country road”; all grass with just gravel for the car tires to ride on. Something straight out of the Catskills you know. But my fear of rainwater getting into my basement along with my neighbor’s house forced me to be more realistic and just cement it over. But the front of the driveway just had to be different, something friendly and a little country looking. And it had to have to grass, at least a little.

So I Goggled “country driveway” on the internet and searched and searched for ideas. And after days of never really finding anything that looked like what I wanted, I just decided to take the matter into my own hands and draw it out myself.

It would be two thin strips of red brick for the car tires to ride on and a long wide patch of grass in the center. Yes, I wanted my driveway to have some real green grass dammit! Just like the kind my block had when I was a kid.

And I had to be asked dozens of times by my neighbors why I just didn’t make it all concrete. They just couldn’t understand when I told them that I hate concrete and would rather have some grass down
the middle.

Was there really something wrong with me? They looked at me like I was totally crazy, like I was from Mars or even Park Slope.
Yes, I was out of my mind.

But I forged ahead with my little project and “dammed the torpedoes”. And after about three days of work we had some grass, well actually I put down sod, but it’s still grass you know.

Yes, I added some grass to my block, and I am very proud of myself.
I guess I really do have some Park Slope in my blood, you know I was born there, right?

So the battle rages, and I'm actually thinking about breaking up the concrete between the two trees in front of my house and planting grass. My wife thinks I'm insane, and Frank from across the street will certainly be insulted if I break the still perfect “concrete” job he did about twenty years ago.

Because I will always believe that there has to be something else. And I just hate concrete you know, and wish it could just all
turn to grass.

Ron Lopez
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Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog. I too grew up in Kensington -- but since I've lived out of state for many years it's easier to say "Flatbush." I lived at 473 East 2nd, but was (and am) three years older than you. I can't recall knowing you perhaps because of the difference in our ages.

Your stories sure bring back the memories. I left Brooklyn in '75 -- I hadn't thought about Morris in a long time! We always had a fondness for Morris, as opposed to the Good Humor Man. Morris and his frozen hands -- oh my. Do you remember the rides that would also come around? I think one was called "The Whip" and the owner/operator would snap balloons at the kids as they spun around near him.

Was your kindergarten teacher Mrs. Steinig? I had her a few years earlier.

You're a fine writer and I look forward to reading more of your reminiscences.

Lawrence "Buster" Eriss

Ron Lopez said...


Kindergarden was Mrs. Margoulies, pardon the spelling. I think that was my brother's teacher though.
His name was Joseph Lopez, and if he was alive today he would be turning 52 this May 23rd. So he may still have been one grade below you.

Yes, Morris, and the evil Good Humor man!
And of course the "Whip"

Was that between Ave C and Beverley?
My cousins the Perri's were on that block.
Buzzi still owns the Buzzarama you know.

Keep in touch!