Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Break Up (Kensington Present Parenting)

Note: My better half did this some time back. She's the real "sharper knife" in the drawer.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve had a number of break ups with other mothers. Not my fault, though, and I’m not the only one. Mothers are breaking up with each other all the time and it’s always over the same thing – Parenting.

We are constantly assessing each other; weighing-in on who’s right, who’s wrong and who’s insane. It sounds gutless and mean-spirited, but it’s really not. It’s just fear and confusion on all our parts.

We’re all terrified of failing as parents. Terrified of failing our kids and having to live with the consequences. Pick your nightmare: AIDS, Crystal Meth., Columbine, “Girls Gone Wild”, uselessness, hopelessness. . . It’s all grim.

If we’re right, our children will grow-up into happy, useful adults and, hopefully, move out of the house. If we’re wrong, we’re visiting them in rehab or jail trying to ignore the words MOM SUCKS tattooed down their knuckles.

And what compounds it all is the total confusion and uncertainty surrounding good parenting. There is no consensus anymore on how we should parent our children, (if there ever was). None. There are plenty of theories, oh yes, but no certainty that any of it is works.

So we cling to those mothers who agree with our parenting choices and who can reassure us that we’re doing the right thing. And we jettison those moms who parent their children differently and who, through no real fault of their own, challenge us and force us to question our own parenting. And who wants that?

So we break up.

My first break-up was pretty painless. It was with a mother who took parenting her three-year-old son very, very seriously. She had to. He was “gifted.”

Now. I’m not saying he wasn’t gifted. Maybe he was. It’s true, he could say blue in Spanish. But, he wasn’t exactly composing sonatas. I never saw him do long division. Still, I was happy for her to think her son was a genius. I secretly thought my three-year old son was a genius too.

The thing is, it was really stressful being around her. Every moment had to be a teachable moment; talk centered endlessly around her son and about the challenges of raising such an intelligent child; but worse, every now and then, she would inexplicably try to reassure me that I didn’t need to worry about my son. He would be fine, she would say. Every child is different and develops at his own pace. Not to worry.

Um. I’m not worried. And you, my friend, are a total loon.

Ok. I never actually said that to her, because I’m a big coward and other moms scare me, but I did break-up with her. And, as I said, it was painless. So painless, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even remember my name.

The one break-up that did hurt was with my normal friend - my super cool, beautiful, funny friend. The one who was just like me - clueless and overwhelmed and scared of all the other moms because they clearly knew what they were doing and we clearly did not.

I loved her! She was a total joy to be around. Everything about her life seemed to mesh perfectly with mine. We both had boys the same age. I was renovating my house. She was renovating her house. I was thinking about getting highlights. She was thinking about getting pregnant again. Perfect.

It was our parenting, though, that truly cemented our friendship. We agreed that we weren’t going to be angry, punitive parents – like our parents. We were going to raise our sons using positive reinforcement.

We were going to “catch” them doing something good and praise them with a love and an enthusiasm so warm, so nourishing, so heavenly that our boys would be inspired to do good all the time just so they could be rewarded again and again by our remarkable love.

That was the plan.

The trouble is, in between those moments of doing good, our boys were complete terrors - each in his own astonishing and delightful way.

My son was verbal and had no problem insulting anyone who crossed him – especially teachers or, sadly, me. By the time he was four-years-old, he had a whole arsenal of distressing insults at his command. My personal favorite -“hysterical hens from hell”- shocked his teachers and got him into a lot of trouble at school, but secretly impressed me. I mean that’s not a bad alliteration for a four-year old. But wrong! Very wrong.

My friend’s son was different. He was extremely sweet and never had a bad word for anyone. But when he was crossed, he would get physical - hitting, biting and breaking things in anger.

Needless to say, we were the two moms who were asked to stay after school and conference with the teachers. We nodded politely and earnestly as they suggested “strategies” and “coping skills” and possible “consequences” for our boys, but we always left unconverted.

Positive reinforcement might take longer to get results, we told each other, but in the end our boys would be less angry and happier men. Reason, love and praise were all that was needed to deal with this completely normal behavior.

But one afternoon, after a particularly bad outing with my son, I abandoned the faith completely and crossed over to the other side – the punitive, angry parent side.

I was in the drugstore, standing in a long line of people, and had just explained to my still four-year-old son that, no, I wasn’t going to buy him yet another packet of Pokemon cards, when he lost it. “You are such a loser freak, Mom! I hate you!”

An audible gasp rose from the line, and my scalp broke-out in a sweat. But, I didn’t cave. With all the love I could muster, I knelt down next to my son, looked him square in the eyes and told him he was being rude and hurting my feelings. He really needed to think about that and . . . But before I could finish, he shouted, “Shut-up, woman!”

More gasps from the crowd. More scalp sweat.

As I reached the counter to pay, the cashier – a middle-aged Bangladeshi woman who has since become my friend - said to me, “Don’t let him talk to you like that or he will grow up to be a very unhappy man.” Right.

As I think I’ve made pretty clear, I’m generally too fragile and insecure to accept unsolicited parenting advice from anyone. But for once, I wasn’t offended. I was actually relieved. It was as if for a brief moment I was in tune with the universe long enough to hear it say very clearly and lovingly, “Get a grip.”

And I did.

I took my screaming son home, sat him on a stool in the bathroom, went to his bedroom and proceeded to strip it, putting all his toys, videos, Pokemon cards, hot-wheel cars – everything! – away into the closet.

When I was done, his room was empty - except for his bed and dresser. Then I led my son to his room and sat him down on the bed. I told him he wasn’t ever going to talk to me like that again and he wasn’t going to see any of his toys until his behavior started to improve. Seriously. Then, I left him alone in his room, stunned.

And it worked. He was angry with me, oh yes, but he actually started to control himself and his language. Things at school improved.

Now. I’m not giving advice. I’m not. I’m still an insecure and clueless mom and I’m sure I’m going to have to deal with some kind of ugly backlash when my son is a teenager. So, wish me luck. I only mention it because, once I changed my parenting style, play dates with my friend and her son became impossible.

Inevitably, my son would end up punished, alone in his room, muttering something about me being the meanest mom in the world. Meanwhile, my friend’s son would still be bouncing a ball against my newly painted wall, completely ignoring his mother’s suggestions to “listen” and to “make the right choice.” It was miserable.

So were the silences between us. I just couldn’t engage anymore in our regular conversations, and I was too much of a coward (and I am a big, fat coward) to tell her the truth - how wrong I thought she was; how misguided her parenting now seemed to me.

So, I attempted a break-up, using the coward’s stand-by - the ol’ fade-away. I didn’t return phone calls. I made excuses to avoid play dates. Canceled others at the last minute. I did everything I could to avoid seeing or talking to her, hoping she would just get impatient and stop calling me.

What she did was confront me. What was going on? Was I avoiding her? Was I angry with her? What happened?


Normally, in these types of situations, I lie. Oh, yes. I do. If I think I‘m going to make someone angry with me or hurt their feelings I will lie – shamelessly - big, glorious lies. But this one time, I told the truth. And it was awful.

It wasn’t working! I blurted out. This whole positive reinforcement stuff was a load. Her son was out of control. She needed to stop talking so much to him and punish him. Give him consequences. Consequences, consequences, consequences!

In the middle my rant, I remembered why I don’t tell the truth – I’m no good at it.

After a long pause, my friend finally spoke. “I see,” she said. “Well. Good-bye, then,” and she hung-up the phone.

It was just a whisper, but that good-bye concussed me. Not only had I ended our friendship, I had hurt her feelings. I had insulted her son. And I had accused her of the one thing she feared most - failing as a mother.

I haven’t heard from her since.

Of all the break-ups in my life, of all the partings, hers is the one I regret most. The one I am most ashamed. There was no real reason why we couldn’t have been friends. If I had been a stronger person, a better friend, and a less insecure mom, I would have found a way to keep our friendship alive, despite our parenting differences. I acted like a coward, but this time it wasn’t cute or funny.
It was gutless and, even, a little mean.


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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Play Date from Hell (Kensington Present)

The "Play Date from Hell" started like any other “play date” usually does. You’re in a park or playground with you son or daughter just pushing them on that black-seated swing. They’re laughing away with their little legs kicking back in forth having another wonderful day. And there’s that woman next to you again with that big straw hat. You have seen her about three times so far and yet have never spoke. You have your “nanny” radar on and so far so good.
Time to move on this, looks like the mom.

“Oh, so how old is your daughter?”
“Well, she just turned three on August 14.”
So far, so good, no corrections yet about her not being the mother.

“Are you from New York?” “Oh, me too,” “What’s her name?”
“Oh, she has such beautiful blonde hair”. Now, for the big one as your leaving. “Here, let me give you my number, maybe the kids can get together one day.” She smiles and gives you her number too. "Mission accomplished" is all you say to yourself as you push open the heavy metal gate of the playground.

And just like any other date, you still wonder if they’re going to call. Everyone is just so polite nowadays, and you wouldn’t expect them to crumple up your phone number right in front of your face now
would you?

And then one day the phone finally rings. “Hi, this is “………” from the playground, we met the other day.” “Sure that sounds great”
“I’ll see you then.”
Oh, coffee or tea, what should I make? Now, which toys have that lead based paint? Better hide the “Little Princess” stuff. I know he’s only “experimenting” but she doesn’t. Ok, good, NPR as back-round noise. The doorbell rings, and there she is. “Hi, so nice to see you” “Oh, she’s so beautiful.”

Now my wife is a stay at home mom and has always been a pretty good disciplinarian with our son. No beatings or anything like that, just right from wrong, stand in the corner, 1, 2, 3, so on and so on. And let me tell you, it all works. He’s eight years old now and hasn’t spit at his teacher since pre-school.

And then it started, just like that.

The wooden spoon just struck the back of my sons little three-year-old head. The blonde girl just laughed after she did it.
My wife just sat there thinking the lady in the big straw hat would say something. Hoping in some way she would tell her daughter not to do it again. “Oh, is he having a bad day?” said the lady in the straw hat. Is this woman totally insane? Your little blonde haired daughter just whacked my kid on the head with a wooden spoon, he’s crying and you’re asking my wife if “he’s having a bad day?” My wife gently confiscated the wooden spoon from the little blonde girl. She then started crying. “Oh, Virginia, I think she wants the spoon back” said the lady with the straw hat. My wife gave the spoon back to the little blonde girl. “Now no hitting,” said my wife. “Oh, you don’t have to tell her that, she knows not to hit.”

And it just continued…………..

My son spent most of the “play date” trying to protect himself from the little blonde girl. The mother was just totally oblivious to anything her daughter did, yet totally tuned in to my sons crying after he would get whacked by the spoon.

“Oh, Andres, I’m sorry, are you having a bad day?” said the lady with the big straw hat.

Now, my son was pretty verbal as a three year old, you know the third adult syndrome, blah, blah, blah.

And here it comes, those moments in life that you never forget.
The ones you tell your kids about when they’re older.

The lady with the big straw hat stood by the front doorway with her blonde demonic child in the stroller. She just looked at my son and said “I hope the next time we visit you’re not having such a
“bad day”

With that my three-year-old son just looked at her and said,

The gasp could be heard around the world. The woman with the big straw hat just looked at my son frozen. My wife and I did our best to make Andres apologize for his remark, although we knew he just said what we were thinking all throughout the play date.
My wife did her best to avoid the woman with the big straw hat form that day on. Carefully surveying the playground before she opened the heavy black gate day after day. It was just that bad.

We don’t know what happened to the lady with the big straw hat and her daughter, she never called us and we never called her. It was Brooklyn justice, plain and simple. But like all good "Kensington Stories", they all start somewhere.

And we’ll never forget the “Play Date from Hell”

Ron Lopez

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When Giants Lived (a Church Avenue Story)

At one time they both stood, proud and mighty. Just daring the next to be better, without ever throwing a punch. With clean glass and stainless steel each was an awesome giant, forever protecting their good name and block.

Their weapons were soft and sweet, and known to many throughout Kensington. Come early Sunday at the break of dawn, you could smell their proud aroma along the deserted sidewalks of Church Avenue. Tempting those who were brave enough to wait outside their locked doors until they opened, hoping the pleasure would soon be all theirs to enjoy.

Next to the Beverly stood “Ebingers” and about a block and a half down by East 3rd street stood “N.E. Tells”. These two bakeries had
to be the finest in the land, and they were all ours, right here
in Kensington.

As a kid growing up you’d sometimes argue with your best friends about which one was better. And always hoped to see either one at a Birthday party on the block. Because when it came to great cakes, they were both truly the best. And it really didn’t matter which was was better, because they were both the most wonderful bakeries
in Brooklyn.

Yeah, what a lucky bunch we were, In the days when giants roamed the land, all you’d have to do is walk up to Church Avenue and open their doors.

“Oh yes, how sweet it was”.

Ron Lopez

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Building Warriors in Kensington Brooklyn

The old rusted corpse just laid there. Like some warrior wounded in battle, the Plymouth sat chained to the long galvanized steel gurney. The live blood of its body was slowly dripping out of its fluid lines and oil pan. Its soul was dying. With the diesel engine of the flatbed revving to a higher pitch, I could see my neighbors staring at it from their porch.
With sheer disgust in their faces, they just watched.

The driver got out of the truck and walked behind the cab, he pulled on one of the black levers. With the sound of an electric bed at Palm Gardens on Avenue C, the patient rose slowly towards the sky. Higher and higher it went, the motor groaned and whined until it stopped. The eyes of the Plymouth just stared at the smokestacks of PS 179 in the distance. Another greasy finger pulled another lever and the Plymouth started to roll gently down the bed. As the bald Goodyear’s slowly turned, a long rusty chain grew from underneath the front bumper. Growing longer and longer, until the car sat flat in front of my driveway. Like a fish with a hook in its mouth the rusty chain extended all the way up the truck, the Plymouth looked dead. The driver got on the ground underneath the front bumper and rattled the cold steel chains. A few moments later he dropped them to the ground. “Ok, she’s all yours.” With that he pressed another button, the flatbed retracted and the chain slowly grew shorter working it’s way back up the bed until the hook could only be seen from the large spool behind the cab. The red transmission fluid of the Plymouth filled the steel bed like blood. I paid the driver and he drove away.

Inside the car there was a human figure, he looked at me through the dirty window and smiled. One of my best friends, Peter LoBianco was sitting inside the old Plymouth since the pick-up at Avenel, New Jersey. Dust and dirt from the ripped headliner covered his hair. He slowly rolled down the window. “So Ronnie, should we give it a shot?” I just nodded my head “yes”. Peter stuck the silver key inside the black steering column. With his thumb and index finger on either side of the Chrysler Pentastar he turned the key towards the hood. With some struggle the starter motor slowly turned the gigantic flywheel with its tiny gears. Turning, turning, turning, until the engine awoke. With the sound of an old Jersey drag racer the Cuda rumbled a loud throaty sound. As blue smoke slowly filled the street my neighbors closed their porch door and went inside. We pulled it into my driveway, the sound was horrific.

Oh, so here we go again, another break-up, divorce or failed romance and Ronnie Lopez buys another car. Just a little something to distract him while he gets it together. No habit to pull me through you ask? Yeah, I had a habit, a real bad one too. They weighed around 3500 pounds, leaked oil, and smoked. And all I had to do was close the door of my garage and leave the real world behind me, never thinking twice about why that last relationship never really worked out, or even giving it another chance. No, forget romance and love for now, because you have an old steel warrior to bring back to life, and it’s going to take you months.

And your friends, well, there going to have to understand too, although sometimes they just didn’t get it. “Hey Lopez, what the hell you doing in this stupid garage all the time?” “There’s a big world out there”. “Just go upstairs and take a shower, we’re going into the city”. I guess that’s why I called them my friends. A night out in the Greenwich Village followed by some Pizza at Rays on 6th Avenue.
But then it was back to work.

Freezing winter nights sometimes turned the water to ice as I wet sanded the smooth red lacquer paint. Just fighting the elements until stone turned to glass. From the driveway of 399 East 4th, you could see the light glowing through the cracks in the door, sometimes till dawn. And on many occasions the “midnight auto repairs” resulted in some nasty letters from my downstairs next-door neighbor. The letters would just appear in the foyer of the house, simply addressed to “Ronnie”. After reading them I would always let her know that she’ll get the first ride around the block once I was finished.
“That’s not funny Ronnie” is all she would say.

And then the day would finally arrive, the moment to unveil out my own hand made “Faberge Egg” from my garage. It was my masterpiece, my novel, and my sculpture. It burnt hands, cut fingers and emptied my wallet. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And most important, it helped me forget “what’s her name” for the past year or so.

So you look at her in all her glory, her engine is new and her paint shines like glass. You sit inside the new interior and turn the key. The brand new 440 Chrysler engine purrs like a kitten. You slowly back the Cuda out of the driveway, making sure not to make too much noise. You can see your neighbors again on their porch, even they look amazed. You park the car in your driveway and open the driver’s door; walking backwards you just admire it, feeling proud of your accomplishment. As you sit on your front stoop and look at the car, all you can say is ”it’s done, finally it’s done.”

Well, I still hold all those cars dear to my heart, and still drive them around Kensington once and a while. Like beautiful crystals in a cave they live in the darkness of my garage. But now a days I don’t get to work on the cars that much anymore, forget about painting them or re-building motors at twelve midnight. I just can’t seem to find the time, and besides, there haven’t been any failed romances lately either. You see my two children and wife keep me quite busy these days. And I can only thank one person for that. No one other than my next-door neighbor who looked at that Plymouth with anguish on her face the day we brought it on that flatbed.
Because she introduced me to my wife right after I finished my second car, and must have been planning it all along.

Ron Lopez

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Bob Brennan, a Brooklyn Original

The greatest storyteller Brooklyn has ever known is my friend Bob Brennan. At 78, Bob is a Brooklyn original you know. From sneaking into Brooklyn Dodger games at Ebbetts field to climbing the wall outside Kings County Hospital to see a live autopsy. Bob just always had what seemed like a novels worth of stories to tell at any given moment.

“Oh, do I have a good one for you Ronnie” said Bob. “You know my brother Joey wasn’t one for doctors, and one day he hurts his arm real bad playing baseball down on Brooklyn Avenue. So after about a week he goes to the doctor. Well, he comes home with a cast on his arm, and there’s my brother going crazy every night with this cast. Its itchy as all hell, he’s sticking wire hangers, ice cream sticks, almost anything he can find to shove up the cast and scratch himself. Well, finally after six weeks he goes to the doctor to get it off. So when the doctor takes a small hammer and cracks it open, “Bang!”. He breaks open the cast and hundreds of roaches come running out.
The doctor gets up and runs the hell out of the room.
And there’s my brother just sitting there screaming with
all these roaches all over him”.

Besides being a wonderful storyteller, in many ways I felt like Bob was the Dad I never had also. When my dad died when I was seven many of the fathers on the block pitched in to either show me how to hold a hockey stick or catch a hardball. And of course Bob had the best arm on the block, he was even called for a tryout for the New York Giants Baseball team before he was drafted and went to Korea. So there I am just standing in front of my driveway at 399 East 4th with my new Rawlings mitt. “OK Bob, I’m ready”. With the gracefulness of a pro-ball player, Bob throws the hardball towards me. Like a streak of white it flies through the air crossing East 4th and hits the newly oiled palm of my glove, “snap”. I just stood there with my fingers and hand feeling like they got run over by the B35 bus on Church Avenue. “You OK, Ronnie?” Too embarrassed to say no, or even cry in pain. I dug the ball out of my oil soaked glove and threw it back to Bob. With the gracefulness of the “Tin Man” before he got oiled, the ball flies through the air, totally missing Bob’s glove. It ricochets off the hood of a 70 Plymouth Duster and lands in “Frank form Italy’s” tomato garden. Instead of laughing or being upset, Bob just retrieves the ball from the tomato garden. He walks over to me, “OK, now I’m going to show you how to throw the ball”. Yeah, that was Bob.

You have to understand that Bob’s stories and his personality were almost medicinal too. In some of the darkest days of my life I could always count on Bob to help me forget my pain. All without him ever knowing that he was doing just that.

After my little sister died at 33, I had to go to Kings County Hospital and identify her body. Without a moments hesitation I asked Bob if he could come with me. And without any hesitation on his part he just said “yes”. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you about the time me and my brothers climbed the wall outside the morgue wing to watch them do an autopsy?.” Although I heard it before, I would rarely say yes, and especially not today. “No Bob I haven’t.
When I had to pick out a casket for my sister the next day at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue. There was Bob with me in the “showroom” down in their basement. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you the time I was at a funeral over at Cypress Hills Cemetery?” The ground is totally covered with ice, and here’s these two guys pulling the casket up a steep hill. Well one of the guy’s falls and the casket comes sliding down the hill like a toboggan at Prospect Park. It hits a tree and the stiff comes flying out of the casket". "What a mess I tell you”.

The Casket cost me fourteen hundred dollars,
but the therapy was free.

And the stories went on and on, from a baby eaten to death by rats in Brownsville when Bob was a kid. To the midget that fixed his oil tank in his basement, because he was small enough to fit inside it to do the repair work. Yeah, Brooklyn through and through, that’s Bob.

You better believe that Bob was one of the first people I saw after 9/11 too. Bob was a tower crane operator and worked on the World Trade Center back in the early 70’s. He used to tell me stories about sitting up in the cab some 110 stories up in the sky. “With the wind blowing it felt like you were on a ship, just rocking back and forth.” Bob pulled a lot of steel from the street to help build those buildings. And on 9/12 there I was, just sitting at his kitchen table. Looking at old photos of him standing on the roof of Tower 2 while the building was still a skeletal frame.

In many ways I feel bad that everyone doesn’t have a “Bob Brennan” in their life. Or maybe the entire Brennan family for that fact. There certainly would be a lot more laughing and less prescriptions being filled out at “Walgreen’s”. Yeah, that was my anti-depressant, a quick trip to 422 East 4th.

The other day my company was splashed across the business section in the “Wall Street Journal” another 2500 layoffs in 2008. So what’s a grown man to do? worry you say? No, just call Bob Brennan for that quick pick me up. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you about the wedding I went to, here’s this guy standing over the bar like this. He has his eyes closed and just looks real stiff. When his wife tries to grab his arm, he’s cold as ice. This guys dead, standing up right over the bar, looking at his martini”.

Yeah, the greatest storyteller I have ever known lives on my block, and his name is Bob Brennan, and I’m proud to call him my friend.

Ron Lopez
(Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.)

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Sun Sets Over Brooklyn

The old woman moved very slowly down the cold concrete sidewalk of East 4th street. Her body was bent forward as she used the tiny blue shopping cart to help steady her walk. With her knuckles swollen and her hands looking somewhat distorted, she gripped the cart's thin metal bar for dear life. Wearing her old favorite tan overcoat and dark sunglasses she had hair as white as a new fallen snow. The wind was bitter cold as it blew against her skin, she seemed to be counting her steps as she walked. The wheels of the cart squeaked quite loudly and made a sound that was almost seemed musical, the spokes just glistening in the morning sunlight. I watched her until she vanished around the corner onto Beverly Road.

She was tall and beautiful with long brown wavy hair and dark blue eyes. There she stood under the big clock at the Hotel Astor in Manhattan. “Hey gorgeous, how about a movie tonight?” The young woman smiled as she glanced back up at the clock. It was five minutes to six and her date would be there any minute. His name was Ray Ravelli, and he was a professional boxer. Tonight there would be a lot of stopping on the way to dinner, because everyone knew Ray when he walked through Times Square. As the clock struck six and the bells gently tolled, she saw Ray walking towards her.
She smiled as he took her hand.

“Hey Ray, when you going to fight Graziano again.” With quickness in her steps she pulled him along through the busy sidewalks of Times Square. Ray, unable to answer the question from the stranger just turned to her and said, “Hey Stella, how about we just get married and move to California?”. She just looked at him and shook her head "No".

She looked into the mirror and closely studied her face. The mirror just looked back at her, staring straight into her eyes. “Who you looking at you old woman!” The lady in the mirror just smiled back. With much caution in her steps she slowly walked out of the bathroom and headed towards her favorite chair by the window, her old bent finger flipped up the switch of her radio. She loved “Prairie Home Companion” on a Saturday night. Then she reached into her bathrobe pocket and pulled out her mother’s old magnifying glass. She placed it against the face of her watch and slowly drew it towards her blue eyes. It was six o’clock and time for another beautiful sunset over Brooklyn.

My Mom never married Ray the boxer. He wanted to elope and move to California, my mom just wasn’t that adventurous and instead decided to stay in New York and make Brooklyn her home. She loved the excitement of Brooklyn and especially the young people. “Do you think I want to live with a bunch of old people and hear all their stories about aches and pains? no, I’d rather live with the young, at least they help you forget that you’re old”.

My mom died on October 13, 2001 at the age of 83.
She never left Brooklyn, and I never remembered to oil the squeaky wheels of her carriage.

Ron Lopez

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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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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thanks for reading

To all the folks who have taken out that few minutes of their time to read these stories, I just wanted to say thank you.
These stories are just a collection of my Kensington experiences that I am trying to tie together somehow. I am flattered to see so many people have visited this site, because I really don't consider myself a writer of any sort . My wife thinks I am very brave for doing this, but what the hell, at least you guys get to hear about the neighborhood that I grew up in, with no editing.
So a very "Happy and Healthy New Year" to everyone. Thank you again for your time, and more stories to come in 2008!

Ron Lopez