Not all Kensington Stories really take place in Kensington you know, especially this one. I mean it did start in Kensington that evening, but ended in a very strange place that warm spring night back in 1996. And it certainly was a night I will never forget, and it truly became a story for the ages in my Brooklyn life.
I don’t know why I made such a fast left turn that night off 40th onto Eight Avenue in Manhattan. I remember hearing the real wheels of my 84 Monte Carlo squeal a little. Maybe she even fish-tailed too. But whatever it was or wasn’t, it was sure enough to get the attention of a patrol car waiting for a red light on Eighth Avenue.
But being cautiously optimistic, I gently pressed on the gas pedal, and kept driving anyway. Hoping a Brooklyn snail cruise would maybe somehow make up for the dangerous show she just put on.
And like a Bay Ridge cruiser on the boulevard, she slowly moved along, the sound of her 350 V8 softly rumbled in the warm Manhattan night.
Buy the time I passed the Port Authority and approached 43rd street the police car was directly behind me with lights flashing. The Monte’s slow speed probably caught their attention even more. I could see the cop in the drivers seat motioning me to pull over to the left by one of the blinking peep shows that made Eighth Avenue it's home.
So I pulled over to the left, put the Monte in park and waited for the cops to walk over to my window. They both opened the doors of their squad car in perfect harmony and slowly walked over to my car. One stood by my driver’s window, the other in the street by the passenger side. The cop by my driver’s window slowly leaned down and looked at me.
“Do you know why we pulled you over?”
Now, if there’s one thing I have learned in all my life here in New York City, It’s always a good idea to be polite to a cop. And never really “bullshit” them either, because they do this stuff for a living and can smell a bullshit artist a mile away. And besides I was on the way to my friend Justin’s apartment up by Central Park West, and I was late already.
“Yes officer, I made that left a little too fast”
“Could I see your driver’s license and vehicle registration please”?
So I gave him my license and registration and he walked back to the patrol car with his partner. They sat in the car for a while and seemed to be looking at something inside their car. Maybe a computer screen or something.
They then both got out of the car and approached my window again.
“Mr. Lopez, can we ask you to step out of the car please”. “And keep your hands where we can see them”.
“Sure, no problem”.
So I un-folded myself out of the Monte and stood against the drivers door of my ride. For whatever reason I was wearing my favorite long black leather coat that night. I was also trying to grow a beard that week. So I had to look just a little too cool for my own good.
“Is there some kind of problem officer?”
Suddenly there was a lot of chatter on his police radio, my location was mentioned over and over, “43rd and Eighth Avenue, 43 and Eighth Avenue”.
And that’s when they came, about four other police cars. They surrounded my Monte Carlo, and the police surrounded me.
They just all stood milling around, and then it was time for Mister “Tough Guy Cop”.
This little guy who probably stood up to my chest starts getting in my face, well actually my chest but who’s counting.
“Mr. Lopez, I have a few questions to ask you”
“Have you ever been to the state of Texas?’
“Maybe once on a business trip I stopped over in Dallas, but that’s it”.
“Well mister Lopez we have a big problem here, a real big problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“Well that’s what you have to tell me mister Lopez”.
So there I stood against the door of my car on 8th Avenue, the bright lights of Show World just flickering away and reflecting off the windows of my car. People started to gather around and watch the side show being played out on the hot asphalt on a warm spring night.
There were more cops and more cars parked around mine.
And then I just started to laugh; I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“I don’t know why you’re laughing, this is a very serious mater” said “Tough Guy Cop”.
And then it hit me, it was all a set-up. My good friend Bobby Brennan worked for the mayor and must have set-up the whole thing. Oh, that Bobby Brennan! Or maybe one of my old girlfriends, yeah, the one I never called back; maybe she knew some cops and wanted to get “even” with me because I was a jerk to her.
And then it was “Tough Guy Cop” Part II.
“Now mister Lopez, I’m going to ask you once again. And look straight into my eyes when you answer me. Do you know why we are holding you here?”
“No, I do not”.
“YOU ARE WANTED FOR A MURDER COMMITTED IN THE STATE OF TEXAS MISTER LOPEZ” said the “Tough Guy Cop”.
“What?” What?” Murder?
“We just ran your name and date of birth, and a Ronald Lopez born December 30th 1957 is a wanted fugitive for murder in Texas”.
And once again I thought of my friend Bobby Brennan playing a prank on me for forgetting his Birthday or something.
“Now, we are going to ask you to get into the patrol car and come down to Midtown South. We are going to have the Houston Police department fax over a picture for confirmation”.
“Ok, sure, all I was doing tonight was catching the Ranger game anyway”
“We’ll have someone drive your car down to the station house too”
So I gave one of the cops my car keys and walked over to the patrol car, I was praying that no one from my job saw this “freak show” right in front of all the porno places on Eighth Avenue.
I remember talking some small talk with the guys in the patrol car, and of course dropping names of all my hockey buddies who were “on the job” themselves working for the NYC police Department. Hoping one of them may recognize a name.
There were no handcuffs and the guys were actually very polite to me as we walked into the station house somewhere in the 30’s off Ninth Avenue. They had me sit down on a metal chair by a cop in front of a desk.
“You know mister Lopez this is probably a big mix-up, but we have to wait for Houston to send us a picture of this guy” If we just let you go, then we wouldn’t be doing what we have to do” said the cop by the desk.
“Hey, you do what you got to do, I got all night, and besides I was just going to a friends house uptown to catch the Ranger game anyway.”
For the first time in about a couple of hours I was starting to feel like this nightmare was going to be over.
So I waited and waited and waited. Cops in and out of the stationhouse, strange stares from anyone who walked by.
And then I heard it, and I started to get really nervous.
The sound of the fax machine.
What if the picture that comes out of that thing is me?
What if someone really did set me up?
What if that girl I never got back to really does want to get back at me?
And then came the moment I was waiting for. After about three hours waiting in the precinct the fax was finally out. The two cops just looked at it and started laughing.
Now it was my turn to break their humps.
“Hey guys, what’s so funny? Is it really me?”
The two cops walked over to me and showed me the fax. It was indeed a “Ronald Lopez” and his d.o.b. on the wanted poster was indeed 12/30/1957. Except he looked more like George Lopez with a full black beard rather than me.
And out came “Tough Guy Cop”.
“Mister Lopez we just wanted to apologize to you for any inconvenience you may have suffered” “Its just that the odds of having the same name and date of birth with another person is very rare”. “And of course it is our job to check all the facts to make sure we are not letting someone go who may have been wanted in another state. “I hope you didn’t miss the whole Ranger game, I hear their winning in the third period”.
“Tough Guy Cop” shook my hand and smiled. “You seem pretty calm for someone who just wasted three hours in a station house”
“Hey, you got to do your job right? and besides I have a lot of friends "on the job" anyway".
He handed me my car keys and I walked out of the precinct, my Monte Carlo was parked in front.
I took a deep breath and was a free man once again. And the lights of the City never looked sweeter that warm spring night in 96.
Yes, I was a free man.
So there you go, a story to remember, yes one for the ages. Murderer one minute, good son the next.
Yeah, another night on the town for a kid from Kensington, just growing up in the only town I have ever known. The big town we simply call New York.
Ron Lopez P.S. Yes, that story was true, I kid you not!
So what happens after I write my story about the “Skuut” wooden bike you ask? Well, my wife promptly orders one on Amazon, and that goes against every ounce of Brooklyn logic in my over-sized head. “What did you do that for?” “It’s like a thug walking a Poodle after he brags about his Pit Bull”. “What if the one or two people who still read my blog see me with Hennessey riding that thing?” “As “Mr. T” used to say on the “A-Team”, “I pity the fool”.
And guess who was the one to open the box and put it together?, yes, you got it right. Just muttering under my breath about Park Slope and the lack of steel bikes the kids ride over there during the entire five minute assembly process.
“Are you almost finished? Hennessey is really getting excited about riding her new bike” said my wife.
“Almost done, just one more allen nut to tighten” As I torqued down the last gold nut, my daughter was already standing my my side, anxiously waiting for me to finish the “assembled in Brooklyn” part of this whole “egg on my face” day I was having.
“Now Hennessey, this bike has no petals, Daddy says “no petals”. Without paying attention to anything I had to say, she grabbed the bike from me and sat on the wooden seat which was covered with a bright red seat cover they threw in the box.
And to my amazement my daughter just started riding it around the apartment. She would gently push herself around while trying to lift both of her feet at the same time. Within a few minutes she was already trying to balance herself on the thing. “You see Ronnie, I told you it actually helps children learn how to balance themselves at an early age” said my wife. “It’s probably going to be very easy for her to ride a two wheeler after she’s outgrown this”. “Want to go outside, want to go outside” said my little curly haired daughter.
So there we were on the sidewalks of East 4th in Kensington, Brooklyn. My daughter just gliding up and down the block having the time of her life on her wooden “Skuut”, and me feeling as proud as ever watching her, and knowing that once again I was very wrong about what I actually didn’t really know.
But, hey that’s OK, I can take it. Have been wrong thousands of times in my sweet Brooklyn life. And I’m sure this isn’t the last time either. And you know what, this one is really special. Just a little story about a "Skuut" on another Spring day in Kensington Brooklyn, and actually feeling real good about being "wrong" once again.
Well folks here's another photo to prove to you that we were still years away from catching any sexually transmitted diseases in Kensington, Brooklyn. Another lonely Birthday or New Years Eve for the boys of East 4th street. How the hell did we all manage to get married or even find a date, I’ll never know. And me with that horrible pen line moustache, what’s that all about? From the left: Bobby Brennan, Me, Glen Gruder and my Cousin Pete. Both Glenn and Pete are now successful attorneys and have since gotten rid of the Afro and beard. Glenn escaped to Kings Park, Long Island and Pete to Florida, New York. Bobby Brennan is head of public relations at the Long Island Railroad and I'm still a Graphic Artist after 100 years. I sure loved my light tan “Frye” boots, I used to buy them at a place called “Tee-Pee” town on 42nd street between 6th and 5th avenue in Manhattan. A big twenty five bucks bought me a brand new pair back in 1974. Too bad they didn't sell shavers.
It has almost been 46 years since this picture was taken in my Grandmother's apartment upstairs from us. I'm not sure who's Birthday it was, but I do remember it well. Our friends from Downsville, New York drove to Brooklyn that day and were scared to death of all the "city" traffic. They are shown seated in the backround, Harold Conklin and Frank Shaver. My Aunt Dolores Liria holding my cousin Denise, cousin Pete is next to her, and me in the high chair in front. My Mom with my brother Joseph to my right. 399 East 4th used to be the center of the universe for the entire family, maybe someday it will happen again.
I think it all hit me when I was about 16 years old.
“Hey Mom, why aren’t there more baby pictures of me?” “All I see in this photo album are pictures of Joey”. “Oh, there are plenty pictures of you Ronnie”.
Yet, as I flipped through the old photo album on our kitchen table, all I saw were dozens of small black and white pictures of my brother.
“Hey Mom, is this me with you standing on the steps of the house?” “Oh, oh, I think that’s your brother Joey”. “Who’s this baby in the carriage outside the Prospect Park Zoo”? “Let me put my glasses on Ronnie”. My mom put on her reading glasses that were draped around her neck, with the long silver chain gently rocking back and forth, she slowly came to a well thought conclusion.
“It looks like you, but I think It’s your brother Joey”. “Mom, you didn’t buy me in Poland did you?” “No Ronnie, I’m your Mother and I even have your birth certificate in the “hunting closet”.
Now, we had some strange names for the “closets” in our attic apartment at 399. There was the “sliding door closet” the “sewing closet” and the “hunting closet”. The “hunting closet” took its name from the fact that my Dad was a big deer hunter and usually kept all his hunting equipment in there, including his rifles which were long gone anyway.
“No, no, I believe you Mom, you don’t have to show me anything”.
Because the "second child" always understands. And the second child is me.
And then there were the “hand-me-downs”
They used to call my tricycle the “doodie mobile”. It had no fenders, was all scratched up and had to be the ugliest brown color you have ever laid your eyes on. Yes, a hand me down from my older cousin Frankie, while my older brother Joseph and cousin Pete had these brand new tricycles with “space age” looking fenders and shinny chrome spokes.
I clearly remember rolling down the incline of our driveway at 399 East 4th and slamming into their “new” tricycles broadside. “Hey, your'e going to scratch my bike” “stop it Ronnie, what are you crazy?” said my cousin Pete.
And there I was, with a little devilish grin on my face trying to ram their brand new tricycles with my horrid “doodie mobile”. Knowing that it could never get any worse for my “ride” and me, I just persisted in making their lives a living hell on the sidewalks of East 4th street.
Yes, it would be “revenge” of the hand-me-downs today. Second child “hand-me-downs”.
“You know Ronnie, you learned everything on your own, and we didn’t have to teach you anything”. “You poured your own water, and used a fork way before your brother ever did”. “And forget about potty training, I think you were doing “number 2” in just a day or so”. “If you ever have a second child, you’ll understand".
Because the "second child" always understands. And the second child is me.
And my Mom was right you know. The second child “always understands”, from shirts to toys, to fishing poles. My older brother and cousin were always there to supply me with a wealth of goods too small or too boring for them to care about anymore. Yes, it was “Christmas” every day for the “second” child.
And as for my “doodie brown” tricycle, well, one day I was given a brand new red “space age” tricycle that matched my brother's blue one and Pete’s green one. Long gone were the days of ramming into them in front of our house on East 4th street. What do you think? I’d want to scratch on my brand new bike?
And photographs? Yeah, I have plenty of them you know. From sitting on my Mom’s lap in our 63 Rambler to feeding her water with a straw at Beth Israel on Kings Highway the day before she died. Always telling me how much she loved me, even at the threshold of her death. Yes, more photos in my mind than a photo album could ever hold.
And you know what, we even had a “second child” ourselves. And she already has her three year old eyes on her brother's purple bike, always asking me when she can ride it. Just another found “treasure” for our “second” child.
So you see, my Mom was right. The second child always understands, even if one is fifty and the other is three.
Because we are the “second children”. And the second children are us.
Thats me on the left, my cousin Pete and cousin Denise. When you grow up together for 20 years, they really become your "brother and sister" My cousin Pete had a full beard at 16! The photo was taken in their old apartment on the first floor of 399 East 4th. We now live in the same apartment.
Playing goalie against my cousin Pete, 35 years later we still play together. A little slower, with more muscles aching, but we still do!
My coisin Pete and Bobby Brennan Jr. at Avenue F back in about 1974.
I wish I never had gone to Church Avenue that morning back in 1973. Because what I saw that day never leaves my mind, like an awful photograph it appears out of nowhere. So clear, so vivid, and so horrible.
The woman stood in the street near the corner of East Second Street. She was screaming so loud, you could hear her all the way from Beverly Road.
Her cries were blood curdling.
They were sounds of anguish, they were sounds of tragedy.
She stood there trembling uncontrollably, her body was in shock.
“Mom, Mom, Mom” “Oh, my God Mom”
In one hand she held a pair of black shoes, in the other she held two pocketbooks. There were people around her trying to console her, yet she was deaf to their comfort.
“Mom, Mom” “Oh my God Mom”
The young woman was standing right behind a gigantic "Kings" concrete truck. There near the rear wheel closest to the curb, was the crumpled body of her mother. A long trail of fresh blood, and clothing stretched all the way to East Third Street. It was the most awful scene I have ever seen in my life.
The young woman’s mother was certainly dead.
As I stood there frozen near East 3rd, by Korner Pizza, I could hear the sounds of Police cars and ambulances in the far distance. There wouldn't be much need for them, it was too late for the young woman’s mother.
I don’t know why I went to Church Avenue that morning, because I just turned around and went back home. Whatever my Mom asked me to buy was just forgotten that day. Just lost in the tragedy of some young woman who just witnessed her mother die.
I couldn’t help but think about that young woman that evening and about the tragic loss she suffered that day. And I know I must have hugged my mother a little tighter that night, and worried about her more than ever when she crossed the streets of Kensington, from that day on.
A day that I will always remember, somewhere along time ago, in the Kensington of my youth so many years ago.
This past Sunday the family walked back to Kensington from Park Slope. Instead of taking the train, we decided to walk straight through Windsor Terrace and avoid the usual “Prospect Park South West” route we’ve taken dozens of times in the past.
For someone who really thinks he knows the area, I was blown away by some of those pretty little blocks up there. Just so many beautiful wood frame and brick houses, and not to mention those majestic Sand stones. Blocks that I never walked on before, streets that I never heard of, it was all so “new” even to me.
You see, when you grow up here you tend to stick to your own area, and of course Kensington was our “town”. But from time to time we would venture up the hill. So while we were walking, I was trying to remember some past experiences about Windsor Terrace to try to “impress” my wife. She loves to hear my stories about Brooklyn, even when she’s yawning.
I do know the “Pilgrim” laundry used to be up there, they tore it down some time in the early 80’s to build condos. My Polish grandfather Stanley Zardecki used to work there, charging the batteries of the electric delivery trucks they used back in the 40’s. That’s right “electric trucks” back in the 40’s, no kidding.
I also used to buy fireworks from some Irish guy that lived in a basement somewhere on Vanderbilt back in the 70’s. He always made us park at least two blocks away so the cops wouldn’t catch on to him. A real sweetheart of a guy, always gave me a bakers dozen when I bought my M-80’s.
Then there were our roller hockey friends that lived up there too, Al Lopez, Drew Thomas, Jimbo Drudey, Bobby Gelling, and more I just can’t remember. Mostly Irish you know, except for another “Lopez”, what the hell was he doing up there?
Oh, but the big one of course was when we watched them film "Dog Day Afternoon" with Al Pacino back in 71 or so. It was right up by Bishop Ford, they even built a fake bank too. That one really "impressed" my old dates, well not really, but at least it broke the silence while they were yawning.
Yeah, that Windsor Terrace, something about it is just so different from Kensington.
Got to take another walk like that again, because there's always more to learn about Brooklyn, even for me.
The brick steps of my house were always quite cold when you sat on them in March. Like an ice cube under your bottom, they were always splended at reminding you it was still winter in Kensington, Brooklyn. But we really didn’t care you see, because we had our hockey jerseys and roller skates on, and were about to get back to the “game” any second.
Like a bunch of misplaced Canadians, there we were, with long hair and wooden hockey sticks sitting on my front stoop. Northland, Koho, Sherwood, Lopez, Liria, O’Callaghan. The names on our Jerseys and the names of our sticks, Oh, they were all so mismatched, and all so beautiful at the same time.
And we were a big bunch you know, Bobby Brennan stood at six five, Neil O’Callaghan at six two, Jimmy Brier, six two, and me at six three. And we never had to lie about our good looks because you could always find us on the block smashing each other into the sides of parked cars. Just ready to sign an NHL contract and find our faces on a box of “Wheaties” someday.
Except no one ever came. I guess Brooklyn wasn’t exactly Toronto when it came to scouting for a “future prospect”. And the fact that we were on four wheeled roller skates and tar instead of silver blades and white ice didn’t help much either.
No, roller hockey wasn’t exactly being featured on “Hockey Night in Canada” back in 1975. And the closest we ever got to Montreal in the Wintertime, was the Catskills for Easter vacation. So forget about a career in the NHL for these oversized Brooklyn boys.
But still we persisted, with numb fingers and numb toes we would just skate for hours. “We were “Rocket Richard”, we were “Bobby Orr”. We were the New York Rangers, we were the Chicago Black Hawks. We were Glenn Gruder, Ronnie Lopez and Tommy Brennan. We were just stars on our own block and couldn’t care less about the “outside world”.
We were seventeen years old and lived without a care.
And life just couldn’t have been any better.
And if you don't believe me, just ask anyone that heard us laugh.
The puck made an oh so familiar sound as it hit my goalie pad. I must have heard that sound over a million times in my 50 years. "Thump" "thump", off my pad and right back to the blade of my cousin Pete's hockey stick. He lines up the puck and takes another quick blast. "Ting", that fast the puck is in the net, the sound of the metal pipe behind my legs is also familiar. Yes, the sound of a goal.
It was Easter morning 2008, and there we were, like two overgrown kids with gray hair. Living with more "cares" than you can shake a stick at. College tuition, million dollar mortgages, private school payments, job insecurity, 401k's shrinking faster than my hairline. Oh yeah, its enough to keep you up at night and make you sick to your stomach. Just worry yourself to death to an early gravesite over in Greenwood why don't you.
And you know what,
life just couldn’t have been any better.
And if you don't believe me, just ask anyone that heard us laugh.
Photo at top, clockwise: Glenn Gruder, Pete Liria, and me, Ronnie Lopez.