The young boys smile looked frozen and awkward as he slept. In-between his folded hands was a dark red rosary. His face was white as milk, and his hair jet black, combed backwards. Under the powdered make-up on his face you could still see freckles, they were dark brown and looked as though they were gently sprinkled on his cheeks.
He wore a white shirt and white jacket. I think it may have been the one he wore for his Confirmation at IHM on Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Above him were two freestanding lamps, with bright yellow lights shinning on his face, his eyes stayed closed. As an eleven year old I still clung to some miracle that Joseph would open them, just a crack is all I wished for. But my mother’s tears told me something else.
I got up from the folding metal chair and walked to the back of the room and sat next to my cousin Pete and Denise. With tears streaming down both of their faces, I knew this wasn’t a dream
It was a warm June night at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue in Kensington, Brooklyn. My brother Joseph was laying in a dark brown casket and was never ever going to wake up from his eternal sleep.
No, my bother was dead.
“Hey Ronnie just stop for a minute, my knees really hurt”.
I remember looking at my brother that day and seeing the pain in his face. We were fishing with my grandfather Paco down by the stream alongside the Hollow that lead to our house in the Catskills.
My brother Joseph stopped behind me, in his left hand he held a fishing pole, in his right hand a white plastic bucket with two small brook trout swimming inside. The water was brown because we just scooped it up from the brook minutes before. I remember it just finished raining that day and the grass was quite wet too.
I took my brothers fishing pole and bucket and helped him walk to our Rambler station wagon parked alongside the road. He just cried all the way to the house while rubbing his knees with his hands.
My mother’s solution for many of life’s woes was a warm compress with Bengay. As my brother lyed in bed that night the relief of a warm washcloth on his knees would only be temporary. Because when we got back to Kensington there would be doctor visits, new shoes, knee braces, questions about tendons and then finally blood tests.
Apparently the knees are where a lot of bone marrow is produced, and when you have “acute childhood leukemia” at 13, they are bound to hurt.
“Who are you here to see young man?” “You know its way past visiting hours and you don’t belong on the floor”
The doctor spoke to me with authority while I was washing my hands in the men’s room at Mamodonies Hospital that night.
“Oh, I’m here visiting my brother Joseph Lopez in room 523”
The doctor’s face just melted before my eyes and he looked almost apologetic now. He rubbed the top of my head and just said; “Oh that’s ok, you just spend some time with your brother young man.”
You have to remember that although I knew my brother was sick, no one really told me how serious it was. But that few moments with the doctor in the men’s room told me something very different. I knew my brother was going to die, no matter what my mom said.
My brother just lyed in that bed at Maimonides Hospital. It was the wing that looked like a gigantic coffee can. We called it the “round building”. From his window you could see Kensington, 310 Beverley and PS 179. On the wall of his room was a card from his seventh grade class at Ditmas JHS.
Joey also had a collection of hospital toys, toys that my mom and my family brought for him to play with while he was sick. There were little cars, trucks, comic books, and a model of the Mayflower. But there was one toy in particular that I will never forget. It was a small plastic white Jeep with a silver chain underneath that powered the four wheels. I would sit next to him and with his hospital bed on an incline we would just run the Jeep up and down the linen hill. My brother never really smiled in Maimonides you know, but that Jeep was the only toy that brought a little glimmer in his eyes.
The nights at 399 East 4th were really awful too. When you always have an older brother either sleeping above you in a bunk bed or next to you in a twin bed, the thought of going to sleep without anyone there with you really hurt. And all you wished for every night was to wake up in the morning and see your brother beside you.
Sometimes late at night I would hear my mother talking to her sister Beatrice who lived in Queens Village. My mom actually spoke fluent Polish, and most of the time that’s how the conversations started. But somewhere along the line they both broke down and it turned to English. When my mother described the bone marrow tests my brother had to take, and his screams that even made the nurses cry, that’s when I shut the door and tried not to think about it anymore.
I was in the 6th grade class at PS 179 on June 11th 1969. Mister Bernstein was my teacher and everyone was just so kind to me that day. From the sixth floor window you could see all of South Brooklyn, including Coney Island. I couldn’t concentrate on my work that day, and I kept repeating “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” over and over in my head as I looked at the Parachute Jump in the distance.
Some of the kids walked over to me and just said “I hope your brother gets better”, even Michael Mc Call who used to break my pencils all the time. I never told anyone in class that my brother was even sick, so I was somewhat surprised that everyone knew about it, especially today.
As the bell rang at three and I left school, I was surprised to see Clair Mc Nally, my friend Paul’s mom waiting for me outside of the school on East third street.
“Hi Ronnie. I just wanted to make sure you got home ok”
I was kind of surprised because I was eleven and have been walking home alone for a while now. But Clair was very kind, so I don’t question her. As we walked up Avenue C towards East 4th, I started to feel a little sick, something just wasn’t right and Clair really didn’t talk to me either.
As we made the left on East 4th and started getting closer to our house I started to feel real anxious and my heart beat faster. There were strange cars in my driveway and the whole thing didn’t feel right. Clair held my hand and walked me up the red brick stairs. Instead of opening up the left hand side door that lead up the stairway to our apartment, she opened up the heavy wooden door to the right that was my cousin Pete’s apartment.
Clair made me sit down on the couch by the front window.
As I looked up I saw my entire family sitting at the dinner table in the next room. They all just sat there quietly with looks of loss and sadness in their faces.
My mom was there too.
Why wasn’t anyone with my brother at the hospital?
Why is everyone here?
Why? Why? Why?
As my mother got up from the table and started walking towards me, she started crying. She sat on the couch next to me and wrapped her arms around me. She just hugged me as hard as she could and then softly whispered in my ear; “Joey died”
Suddenly it felt as though the floor fell through. Like I was floating through the air. Falling, falling, falling. I was hoping to hit the ground and just die so I could be with my brother Joseph.
Then all of a sudden I heard the front door open. It was my cousin Pete coming home from Ditmas. My uncle Pete pulled him aside and also whispered in his ear. Pete just ran into his room in the back of the apartment. He was crying as he closed his door.
Then a few minutes later my little cousin Denise walked in, and it was the same whispering and the same crying.
And before you knew it the door just kept opening, more of our family had arrived. More crying, more whispers, more sad faces.
No it wasn’t a dream, my brother really died that day.
June 11th 1969 was a bright sunny day. A day I will always remember. A day that I can play over and over in my mind, from
start to finish as though it was yesterday.
June 11th 1969 remains forever etched in my soul.
My mother passed away in October 2001, some 32 years after my brother Joseph died. The thought of cleaning my mom’s apartment was daunting. She saved everything. From my kindergarten drawings to my hockey trophies. Yes, the closets were just full of 50 years worth of memories.
All compressed into a small two by six foot space.
As I was digging through a closet in the back of the apartment, I came apon a small green suitcase. It was tucked way in the corner and looked as though it was buried on purpose.
I pulled it out and laid it on the bed. I then un-snapped the straps and slowly opened it. There inside the suitcase were all of my brother’s hospital toys, including the white jeep.
I sat there in shock. It was June 11th 1969 all over again.
For years I was convinced that my mom threw away all of my brother’s toys that he played with at Maimonides.
Thinking that it was just her way of dealing with another tragedy after my dad’s death four years earlier.
And finding them after all those years just buried in darkness was certainly a shock to me.
I sat there in the bedroom and looked through everything in that suitcase. A horrible memory of my past was now in front of me again some 32 years later. I gently closed the suitcase and took it with me that evening.
Time has finally healed this wound, the death of my brother Joseph.
And its very important for things to "heal" you know,
its just a part of life.
Because I now live in my aunt’s apartment on the first floor of 399 East 4th. The same apartment that Clair walked me into the day my brother died. We have dinner in the same room that my family sat in with looks of loss on their faces. The couch sits against the same wall where my mother whispered in my ear that my brother died, along with the same door that my cousin Pete closed behind him to cry in his bedroom.
So you see, I never really moved far from the fire that once hurt so much. You just move along with your life, and hope it never comes back to burn you again.
And the white Jeep that my brother used to play with at Maimonides? Well, I now keep it on a shelf in the living room,
to remind me that one time long ago I had an older brother.
A brother I used to go fishing with.
A brother that protected me when I needed help.
A brother that used to boss me around.
A brother that slept above me in our bunkbed.
A brother that died in Brooklyn on a warm sunny day in June of 1969.
A brother that I still miss after almost 40 years.
And his name was Joseph Lopez.
Well folks, it won’t be long now. With gas well over four dollars a gallon here in Kensington, we should be paying over five bucks by July. And I really wouldn’t mind paying that much if the government threw in free healthcare like in Canada. But I don’t think I’ll ever see that day while I’m alive. No, five bucks a gallon and all we get is the free use of the slimy squeegee at the “On the Run” on Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Did you ever see how disgusting that water looks? And it really smells too.
And me, well I’m stuck with a 2005 Nissan Quest that gets a wonderful 15.5 miles a gallon here in Brooklyn. I think that for every five cents a gallon gas goes up, the Quest is worth another five hundred dollars less. Just a constant reminder of the mistake I made when gas was about 1.69 a gallon back in March of 2005 when we bought the stupid thing. Oh, and don’t ever believe the MPG on the dealer sticker, it WILL get 5 miles per gallon less. I promise you that.
So what do we do you ask?
Well, we can throw all caution to the wind and just buy a Prius. Except when you figure it all out on paper we’d only be saving about 1100 dollars a year on gas. And that’s with driving 20,000 miles a year no less. So it might be a wonderful way to save the planet, but with another new car payment that I don’t have right now, it just doesn’t make smart financial sense.
But don’t tell my wife, she just thinks we should buy one anyway.
So right now we are stuck in neutral, and the fill-ups will be up to eighty bucks very soon.
Can you imagine that? Eighty bucks? Wow.
Oh yes, but then there was a hot summer night back in 1979, and a wonderful evening on Coney Island Avenue that I will never forget.
“Did you see what they’re charging for gas Ronnie?” “The sign said almost a dollar a gallon”
The gas line was so long that it stretched all the way to “Rockys Pizza” on Church Avenue from the gas station down at Avenue C.
The Brooklyn sun had just finished setting over Boro Park in the West. There were hundreds of cars on the line, tempers were “long”, and we were just having the time of our young lives.
“You're gonna kill the battery stupid, lower the volume”
We were all inside my 1973 Buick Century listening to a bunch of 8-tracks that I kept in the car. My friend Neil was standing on the roof of the Buick looking down towards the gas station. Just some Boston, Meatloaf and the Cars blaring through the rear window speakers.
I think we got on the line at about seven at night, it moved for a while and then stopped dead. We were told that they ran out of gas and had to wait for the truck to come. With nothing to do on a Friday night as usual, we just waited, waited and waited. Just talking about life and dreams on a Kensington night, and blaming Jimmy Carter and the oil companies for the whole thing before it was over.
“Hey Ronnie, I think I see a tanker truck down there, it looks like the gas finally came”
It was probably about 2AM before the line started moving again. And no one was mad, no one was angry. Because misery loves company you know, except no one was really miserable. In fact the whole experience was actually rather exciting. Just one big “Samba” line of cars, music and people on a Friday night in Brooklyn.
For all it was worth, that was the only “gas line” I was ever on back in the 70’s. I only used the Buick on weekends because I took the train to work everyday. So the whole nightmare was just one Friday night for me, well, it really wasn’t a nightmare actually.
And when we finally pulled up to the pump, I filled up the Buick. It must have cost me about sixteen bucks.
Sixteen bucks to fill up my tank, and all we got for free was the use of their slimy squeegee.
We could hear the sound of the engine accelerating from the far reaches of Church Avenue. The moan of the small block V8 was fast approaching, its demise was in reach.
“This is going to be a good one,” someone said.
We all quickly got up from my front stoop and ran into the street. Our eyes were all fixed on a late model olive colored Pontiac, it looked like a 68 or 69 GTO. As it raced down East 4th and approached Beverley we prepared ourselves for that horrible sound. A familiar sound we heard hundreds of times before, a sound that wounded or killed many a car engine or Torque flight transmission. Or maybe worse, ripped an entire motor from its warm enamel painted nest.
As the racing Pontiac crossed Beverley, it’s front nose quickly dipped downwards towards the asphalt. From the distance it looked as though it’s four headlights and painted rubber bumper were gently kissing the black-top below. But then in an instant its face lifted upwards towards the Brooklyn skies above.
With two quick hard hits to its stomach, the Pontiac bounced up and down like a child’s toy. Blue smoke and sparks quickly seized the area under its hot undercarriage. From a high speed one moment to a slow crawl the next, the grasp of the monster had just ripped its guts out right before our very own eyes.
The sound was so loud you could probably hear it from Greenwood Avenue too. It was the sound of metal being crushed and bolts being ripped from the flesh of the car. A transmission pan being slashed down it’s belly, or even worse a heavy steel frame snapping in two.
It was the sound of automotive death on a warm Kensington day.
The Pontiac slowly limped down our block, spewing blood and entrails behind its broken tin shell and warm red tail lights. The 350 four barrel was just “chugging” a slow horrible song, gone was the glorious melody of its real V8 power.
The driver quickly pulled over to the right in front of an apartment house, the Margaret Court across the street. He quickly got out of the car holding the top of his head. He was all right, but the force of the impact must have lifted him off his seat and into the air, hitting his head on the roof of his car.
The Pontiac was still smoking and spewing both white and blue smoke. Through the mist of its destruction you could see that the body was broken in two. The nose looking downwards at the ground, while the taillights were angled upwards looking towards Windsor Terrace.
Yes, this was indeed a bad one, for the Pontiac looked dead.
The driver just stood there staring at the car, and then turned around and slowly walked away up the block. He made a left on to Beverley Road and was never seen again.
That GTO must have been there for what seemed like months. Like the corpse of a great racehorse, it just lied there rotting in the Kensington summer sun. Until one day it was gone, leaving us only with a puddle of motor oil and red transmission fluid.
Just another insurance payout in the Boro of my birth.
And even today, some thirty-five years later, I still slow down before I cross East 4th street at Beverley. Just taking it real slow and gentle before I get to my house.
I guess some habits are just hard to break you know.
Because you see, a long time ago there was a horrible iron monster that lived in the street. It was probably just a few inches too high for it’s own good. Heavy cast iron, with holes for its eyes. And I’m sure it must have weighed well over a hundred pounds, and took more than one man to move.
And it had the blood of a hundred cars on its face and always thirsted for more. It was murderer plain and simple and proudly bared it’s name to all, never caring when it killed. Just heavy bold letters and in capitals no less, forever reminding us of its deadly presence here in Brooklyn.
And if the name wasn’t tearing apart the bellies of cars, it was instead emptying the bank accounts of New Yorkers with blue and white bills being slid through a mail slot.
A long time ago there was a killer on the loose and it sat at the edge of my block. It showed no mercy and never picked favorites.
So just drive slowly my Kensington friends, and remember the deadly "CON EDISON" manhole cover.
Because it’s long gone now, and only a distant memory in the Kensington of my youth.
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.
“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses”, or basically all the folks priced out of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights.
It’s nice to see all you newcomers in Kensington. Heck, I see you all almost every day walking down my block. You have springs in your steps and a twinkle in your eyes. Just fresh out of the shower and ready to make a difference in my old stomping grounds.
And all new ideas and new minds are welcome, because there are only so many “Kensington Stories” I can remember you know.
So welcome, and I hope you enjoy your stay here.
But let’s keep any conversations about school under the rug; because I hear my old Alma matta PS 179 is not exactly the learning institution that I knew some 45 years ago. Oh, and I just found out that district 15 ends on Beverley Road, so although I “walk the line” every morning on the way to the subway, my kids are still in the “wrong” zone. But what the hell do I know from school zones, they go to private school anyway. And yes I’m paying dearly for the sins of Public School 179.
Ok, I’ll stop talking about school, I’m sorry.
But in the meantime, keep giving us those “huddled masses”, because you guys all have such wonderful twinkles in your eyes.
You know May is bike month here in New York City. It’s mayor Bloomberg’s polite way of telling us all that we better get off the couch and get a little exercise.
So far I’ve been riding my bike to 50th and Avenue of the Americas from Kensington at least three times a week. That’s a good sixty miles plus on this old fifty-year-old body.
And you know what, besides being a wonderful way to start the morning, I actually find it quite relaxing. There’s nothing more beautiful than riding through Prospect Park at eight in the morning and seeing the mist rising above some of those beautiful meadows. Just a little country in the city before I have to deal with the traffic on Flatbush Avenue, buy hey, at least most of it’s downhill from the park.
Oh, don’t you worry you’re pretty head about a little sweat either, just take another shirt and you’ll be just fine before you sit at your desk. And make sure to give yourself a minute or so to change in the restroom.
I know you Brooklyn bikers may take offense, but funny thing is, I find dealing with Manhattan much better when it comes to riding a bike too. You can cut up the West side bike path or even do a black diamond run right up 6th Avenue. I don’t know what it is, but I feel much safer riding in the city. But hey, maybe that’s just me.
Oh, and the ride home, the coolest trip down Broadway through Times Square. For some reason it takes me five minutes less to get home than to work in the mornings. One hour to work and fifty-five minutes home, yeah, must be those Canadian winds.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that it also helps you drop some pounds too. So far I lost 10 with my little pony.
So get off the couch and dust off that bike. If the commute to the city sounds scary to you then just try the loop in Prospect Park. And if I’m not on my bike, I may just be on my ten year old Roller Blades. Because I just bought me some brand new wheels and just have to keep this old Kensington body moving any way I can.
I remember him like it was yesterday. He was tall and thin with a bald head and gray beard. On any given Saturday morning he could be seen in the driveway of 395 East 4th next door to my house with his gold 1965 Mustang convertible. With all the doors open and the mats laid neatly on the concrete, there he was just polishing away. He kept all his wax, rags and compound all neatly organized too; they were all inside an old wooden milk crate in front of his car. I clearly remember that the interior of the car was white with the emblem of a mustang running that could be seen in-between the pillar of the two back seats. The paint job shined like glass, along with the chrome plated hubcaps and bumpers.
We were always in awe when we saw his car; it had to be the cleanest, shiniest car I have ever seen in my seven years of Kensington life. The smell of chrome polish and carnauba wax just filled the air like a fragrant flower on Saturday mornings.
And there we would stand on the other side of the fence just watching him rub the tops of the fenders for what seemed like hours.
“Hey mister, your car is really nice” He just kept waxing away not looking at us.
“Excuse me mister, your car is really nice” Still no response from the man with the bald head and gray beard.
“Excuse me mister”…
”And if you ever touch it, I’ll break your little hand”
In shock my brother Joseph, cousin Pete and I just walked away to the front stoop of our house. We just sat there in silence; we could not believe that the man with the bald head and gray beard said that to us. Especially after we told him how nice his car was. It was just so wrong and bad. After a few minutes of being scared and upset waves of anger started to take control of our little minds. And my brother looked at a box of smoked trout that my Mom had thrown out the night before. It was just sticking out from the top of the dull silver garbage can.
He just stared at it and then slowly began to smile.
“Ronnie, I have a great idea”.
The trout must have gotten run over at least fifty times on East 4th before it was ready. I ran into the street with a thin piece of cardboard and gently scooped it up. Making sure not to break it in two, I placed our culinary masterpiece in my front yard and watched it bake in the hot Kensington sun.
And then like he did every Saturday, the man with the bald head and beard backed his shiny Mustang convertible out of the driveway and parked it in front of my house, 399 East 4th. As he walked back to the driveway he gave us a mean look. He then turned around and walked back to his car and raised the white convertible top, got inside and rolled up the windows.
There we sat on our stoop, devastated, looking at our squashed trout sitting in the front yard. Well, we could throw it on his hood or roof, but what kind of lesson is that? Just smear it on his door? no. It had to be better than that.
Then we saw it, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. We started stomping our little feet together on the red brick steps of my house. Just the opening we needed. The man with the bald head and beard forgot to fully close the driver’s side window; it was opened about an inch.
The glory would be ours today!
Under the direct orders of my older brother Joseph and cousin Pete, I gingerly picked up the trout in it’s stained cardboard serving tray and walked over to the car. They made sure to keep an eye out or the man with the bald head and beard, and he was nowhere in sight.
I slid the squashed trout through the one-inch crack that he left open. The bloody flat fish landed directly on his clean white driver’s seat.
With that we ran.
We never saw the man with the bald head and beard that day; he must have walked home to one of the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway. And I couldn’t imagine what that car must have smelled like when he opened it up the next day either, because we were at mass in IHM Church on Ft. Hamilton Parkway when he moved it. Just the good little Catholic angels we were.
So the next time you’re waxing your car and some little kid says “nice car”. Instead of getting angry and telling him “he better not touch it”. Just look at him and say “thanks”.