Now I know it’s not going to get my daughter a college scholarship or free tuition for kindergarten. But I have to tell you, I'm pretty fascinated at what the Skutt did for her bike riding skills. After about six months of pedal-less bike riding on the Skuut, she was able to actually ride a two-wheeler without training wheels yesterday. And I think that’s pretty good for a three year old kid. She certainly kicks my ass, I learned to ride a two-wheeler at nine or ten. Just a big over-sized goofball with training wheels on a full-size bike, riding down the sidewalks of East 4th back in the 60’s.
At least no one ever took pictures, that’s blackmail material for sure.
Yeah, so there she is, just one push and she’s off. No falling down, no wobbling, no full body amour. No, just a nice smooth ride without her training wheels, and “I want to go faster” from her little mouth. And of course the only way she knows how to stop the bike is by dragging her feet like she does on the Skuut.
No, she has no clue so far about the brakes.
And there I am running after her as she tries to pedal faster, “pedal backwards for brakes”, “pedal backwards for brakes”. And still she uses the tips or her shoes to stop the bike, scraping the leather right off.
Oh well, more white shoe polish to buy at Walgreens.
So there you go, the non-believer that I was, now praising the virtues of the “Skuut”. The funny wooden bike-like thing that I only saw in Park Slope and thought was just another “must-have” for those people that live on slanted streets.
Yes, I was totally wrong about the “Skuut”, it will help your kid learn how to ride a two-wheeler faster. Yes, I was wrong.
Now, if only there were some kindergarten bike riding scholarships, I’d be in luck.
The Rose bush in front of my house has been there since the beginning of time.
From my first day of kindergarden at PS 179 to my last day of College, it has always blossomed. It has endured countless hits from stray hockey pucks and baseballs. Not to mention being a holder for an empty beer bottle or two during the 70's. The damn thorns are so sharp they can go right through the thickest of leather gloves, and they love to scratch the paint on your car if you get too close. Yes, that rose bush has always been tougher than "nails" and almost legendary on East 4th.
Recently I ordered one of those pictures from the city, they are tax photographs of every house taken back in the late 30's. I was fortunate to get one of my house. It is amazing to see what wonderful detail the house once had. My "Home Depot" glue on moldings are a far stretch from the original wood ones, but oh well, thats progress.
After getting over the lost detail of my house, I turned my attention to the garden in the front. And there it was, just a little smaller, but still it was there.
Yes, that same old rose bush.
And you know what, I never maintain it. I have no clue when it comes to plants. I just let Mother Nature take over. No, Mr. Brooklyn only knows Plymouths not plants.
And I know someday when I'm long gone, it will still be there. Just scratching the side of a "Hydrogen" powered car and being the subject of another blog in the far distant future.
Yes, that same old rose bush, it will always be there.
I really love these old Plymouth Barracudas you know. I even spent a very good part of my younger years here in Kensington restoring a couple of them in my garage. One of my earlier stories (Building Warriors in Kensington Brooklyn) is about the restoration of a few of these old Plymouths.
And when we go upstate to the Catskills, I am always on the lookout for these old beauties. But unlike when I was single, neither the time nor the money exists anymore for such projects. Yes, as my mom used to say, "Once you get married, it's no more, "Good Time Charlie". Yeah, she was right, the only way I can take these cars home now, is on the flash card of a digital camera. And besides, the EPA would have me in jail in 2008. I hear that painting a car in your driveway is now considered a "crime" rather than a hobby.
Oh well, at least it kept me away from drugs.
So here are some pictures of an old Plymouth Barracuda that must have been in the woods a little too long. I found this car up in Grand Gorge, New York. Personally I think it is rusted way beyond repair.
But who knows, just find a "Good Time Charlie" with a lot of time on his hands and extra money in his pocket, and you may just have another old "Warrior" on the road again!
"Hey mom, what year was it again when I lost my rubber giraffe over at Grand Union"?
"You know Ronnie, that must have been about 1960, because you were three years old at the time, and never let go of that thing". “You just carried it everywhere”.
Yes, my little rubber giraffe. I remember chewing it on a daily basis. I’m sure it was chock full of lead paint, and probably gave me some kind of twitch or “involuntary movement” later in life. Or even worse, was the reason why I never made it to any of the “sp” or “gifted” classes that you call them today.
Yes, my little yellow and brown giraffe would be one of those toys you’d see on the 10 O’clock news at night. Just blame it for everything that goes wrong, even if you did forget to do your homework and study.
Now, this story is a real, real, old one. In fact it's so old, I can hardly even remember it at all. Hey, give me a break, I was only three when it happened!
For those of us who lived in Kensington for a while, the new “Foodtown” on McDonald and Albemarle Road was once the “Grand Union”. The Grand Union was the biggest Supermarket in Kensington and certainly dwarfed anything on Church Avenue at the time. So when my mom had to really go shopping, she plopped me in my stroller and rolled me about three quarters of a mile to the Grand Union. And of course I would never leave home “without it”, and that “it” being my little lead based giraffe.
Now the funny thing about the Grand Union is that it was almost identical to the Foodtown before they did the renovation. The hotdogs were in the same exact place, along with the steak and chicken. They never really moved anything, that store was basically the same layout for 50 years or so. Which of course always gave me the opportunity to tell my son or wife the story about my little giraffe.
“Hey Andres, you see where these steaks are? When I was three years old I left my little rubber giraffe here”. “And no one has ever seen it since”.
Yes, through my foggy memory I remember holding the giraffe and leaning over in the shopping cart by the steak. I was holding the damn thing in my left hand and reaching for something. And yes, I do remember actually putting down the giraffe with the steaks. Why the hell did I do that? Oh right, it was the lead paint I must have been chewing.
Well, when we got home from Grand Union that afternoon, guess what I was missing? My mom searched through all her bags and it was nowhere to be found. She even called the store and spoke to the manager, or at least that’s what she told me.
“Oh, a lost and found, I’ll be right over”.
And now, this is what they call “mother’s love”. My mom actually walked all the way back to Grand Union to look for my giraffe. And sadly returned empty handed.
I was devastated, my little rubber giraffe was gone forever. I certainly lost the "lead" of my life. The year was 1960, and it was never the same without "it".
Today was the first time that I have been in the newly renovated Foodtown. I was shocked to see that they actually moved everything in the store around, including where the meats have always been. My wife has been telling me about it for weeks now, and I must say they are doing a wonderful job. The store really looks great, it's like shopping in the suburbs!
And as I left the store I couldn't help but remember my little rubber giraffe. Thinking that someone may have found it behind the meat compartment while they were renovating the store. Just a half chewed faded yellow and brown rubber toy, sitting in the same dark spot for forty-seven years. With it's two litte eyes just staring into space, and always wondering what ever happened in the "Grand Union" that day back in 1960, when it was left behind.
It's been a while since our last mini-reunion. This picture was taken in August of 2001, just a few weeks before my cousin Pete (on the right) had to dodge falling jet parts as he ran out of the WTC on 9/11. I guess time never stops for anyone, including all of us. The picture on top was taken sometime in 1976 in my Mom's top floor apartment at 399 East 4th. The picture below was taken at my cousin Pete's house up in Goshen, New York. Thats me on the left, still living on the block, Bobby Brennan, on Wantagh, Long Island. Nunzio Competiello living near Newburgh, New York, and Pete in Goshen, New York.
I guess it's true, about 75% of the block and Kensington, Brooklyn left a long time ago.
Ok folks, here's something to do on a rainy day. The latest version of Google's street view is really fantastic. You can virtually drive up and down every block in Kensington and Windsor Terrace and check out the sites. The whole experience gives you a wondeful "360" view. You may even be able to find some familiar faces too. The picture above is my block East 4th between Beverley and Avenue C. You can also see my friend the "Profit" sitting in front of the Margaret Court across the street from my house. The "Rev" only dresses in the cleanest "white" as everybody knows! Ron Lopez
You know my dad, grandfather and uncle Manuel from East 2nd, were real big deer hunters when I was a kid. And for those who are familiar with the “Buzz-a-rama”, my uncle Manuel was Dolores Perri’s dad. He was a big man who stood about six feet five, and had a loud booming laugh and shoulders broader than the side of a barn.
He was certainly one of those uncles that you always wanted to come over and visit. Just laughing and telling stories and making you feel special, even if you were just eight years old.
And hunting was a real big deal for them. Every November when I was a kid, we would go upstate to our house for hunting season. As the men wandered off into the woods carrying their rifles. We were given specific instructions not to go outside, and also not to make too much noise, even inside the house.
Just a bunch of “hunter-gatherers” as the women and children stayed back in the den.
Now for whatever reason my brother Joseph, cousin Pete and I just never got into the whole “hunting thing”. I mean we certainly were exposed to it every year, and even traveled back to Kensington with a deer tied the roof of the Rambler more than once or twice. And if you want to talk about some strange looks from the Blanks next door, just hang the deer in your garage after you pull it off the roof of your car I tell you.
Yes, the men in my family certainly showed the “natives” of Kensington a thing or two about hunting. "New York Times editors" and "Ferry boat captains" had never seen the likes of the Lopez family, on a quiet street just known as East 4th.
Yeah, a large buck hanging inside the garage in the back of our driveway, and sawed off deer legs for all the kids to play with. These were the only Novembers that I knew as a child growing up here in Kensington Brooklyn.
In 1965, my grandfathers best hunting companion, my dad, died at 39. Leaving the tradition solely on the shoulders of my uncle Manuel and grandfather. And as the years rolled on Pete and I just never showed much interest in the sport my grandfather loved so much. No, for us it was hockey pucks and roller skates, and weekends down at a hockey court simply known as “Avenue F”.
And my uncle Manuel, well, he hunted less and less too, I think he just missed his best friend, that being my dad. And the times up in the Catskills just weren't the same as they were before, especially for my grandfather.
“So young man, would you like to go hunting with your grandfather this year?” I remember the day my grandfather asked me that question, I think I was about 15 at the time. And feeling that maybe that would be something “special” for him, especially after the death of his son ten years before. I reluctantly said yes.
It was always a dream for my grandfather to hunt with his grandchildren you see. And the fact that my dad was gone along with my brother put added pressure on my cousin Pete and I to just do the “right thing” for our grandfather Paco.
Now, we were never afraid of guns, and even used to shoot old cans of tomatoes for target practice once and a while. But the whole idea of shooting a 200-pound deer just wasn’t something I was really interested in. Dragging it through the woods and cleaning it with a knife and my bare hands like my dad? No, that just wasn’t for me, nor my hockey playing cousin Pete.
I remember my grandfather carefully explaining to us where to shoot the deer that day upstate. “It has to be somewhere above their front legs, this way it cannot run away from you”
We politely listened to my grandfather, and then went on our way into the snow-covered woods of the Catskill mountains. I know my grandfather must have been very proud that day. Seeing his two grandsons now hunting with him, just as his own son did so many times before.
I walked over the ridge and sat on a large rock that overlooks a valley. It is a beautiful view and is near where I built my own house back in 2003. I just stared at the snow-covered mountains in the distance, and dreamed about being back in Brooklyn playing hockey.
As my dad’s gun was resting across my lap, I slowly turned it sideways and emptied the bullets from the chamber. I put each one in my pocket and then gently laid my fathers gun on the ground beside me. I just stared at the mountains in the distance, and never saw a thing. After a few hours I returned to the house and met up with my cousin Pete. Never mentioning it to him, we all sat together and had our dinner.
I never told my grandfather what I did that day. Because I didn't want him to know how I really felt. No, hunting was something my father loved. And I just couldn't feel the same, no matter how I tried.
That was November of 1975, and the last time I ever went hunting.
I remember the phone call my mom got that morning. It was October 16, 1976. I was getting dressed in our apartment on the top floor of 399, getting ready for another day of college in the city.
“Oh my God, No, Oh my God, No”
My grandfather Paco died that morning. In our house upstate, a massive heart attack and 20 miles from the nearest hospital.
It was about a month before hunting season.
And as for my cousin Pete and I. Well, we never did go hunting again, no that all ended with my grandfather and the day I emptied the chamber of the rifle.
But at least my grandfather’s dream came true, even if it was for only one day.
It was years later when I heard my grandmother telling my mom the story. About how my grandfather never found the bullets in my dads gun that night when he was cleaning it. And about how he found them in the pockets of my hunting pants instead.
It made him laugh that night because he always knew I could never shoot a deer.
But most important, he was so proud to go hunting with his grandsons that day. About it being the last thing he’d like to see before he died. Even if it was for only one day.
Well, I actually did something that I hadn’t done since the last “gas crisis” back in the late 70’s.
Something so wrong and calculating, Something that that reeks of “un-fuzzy” math. Something that shocked the hell out of me.
Peeling off those magnetic numerals on the top of the pump you ask? And reveal an old rusted “number 1”.
Well, yes, guilty as charged. I just had to see gas at 1.35 again, at least once before I die.
But no, that’s not it.
No, what I did was so 70’s and so “accountant-like”. Just pushing those beans and hearing them “ting” at the bottom of a big metal pot, and accept the fact that nothing’s going to change. At least not for a while.
What I did was the old “gallons at the pump and write down your mileage on a piece of paper” thing.
And you know what? I was actually quite surprised to find out the results from our trip down to Kensington from the Catskills. The fill-up at the “On the Run” on Fort Hamilton Parkway revealed a quite surprising 23 miles per gallon for our 2005 Nissan “Quest for more gas" minivan.
So I re-filled the tank to start my calculations on the “Brooklyn” driving my poor wife has to do everyday to Bay Ridge. 23 on the highway, hmm, how bad can it be in Brooklyn, 17, 18, maybe 16 the worst.
Well my wife has always been a naysayer when it comes to that stupid van, she swears that it gets nothing better than 12 miles per gallon on the streets of Brooklyn.
Me on the other hand, well, I know everything you know. Especially when it comes to cars. I kept telling my wife that maybe a 400-horse power Hemi gets 12 in the city, but never a 6 cylinder mini van.
"No, you’ll see 12 miles per gallon at the best".
Well, after a week of driving back and forth to Bay Ridge, it was time to fill up the van with some “speculator driven” 4.33 regular. I wrote down the mileage on a piece of paper, 148 miles. OK sounds about right, then I started to fill up the tank. After the 10th gallon was in, I started to feel sick. No, this can’t be right, there must be a hole somewhere under the van, this is IMPOSSIBLE!
The pump stopped at 13.2 gallons, and I felt like throwing up. 148 divided by 13.2? Ah, umm, duh…. 11.21 miles per gallon in Brooklyn? Yes, 11.21 miles per gallon in Brooklyn. Read it and weep sucker.
So I told my wife she was right and then tried to make a case for the “great” highway mileage the vans gets. It was all very fruitless, let me tell you.
I once again did the calculations on buying a new smaller car. The down payment, the monthly payments, the 20,000 dollars that I would have to spend. And it all comes out to more money from the family budget no matter how you slice it. The van has been paid off for almost a year now, so there’s not much you can do. Something like 20,000 miles a year for 10 years to break even. It all just sucks so much.
So, I’m back to peeling off the number “four” at the “On the Run” again. Revealing the sweet rusted number “one” that I loved so much only a few years ago. Just living in a make believe world of “miles per gallon” and dreaming once again it was 2005.
You know I haven’t seen a true toy store on Church Avenue since the days of Lee’s and Kenny’s. And let me tell you, that was a VERY long time ago. Lee’s probably closed in the late 70’s while Kenny’s may have shut down in the mid 80’s. They were both real nice neighborhood toy stores and were on par with anything in Park Slope. Except the prices were a lot less and Lee wore gold chains, polyester shirts and too much colonge. And his wife had a beehive dew that dwarfed anything Amy Winehouse can manage. It was also extremely flammable, and smelled like an automotive body shop. That being her hair by the way.
And the Kenny’s, well that’s a story for another day, you can just look in my archive and find that one.
So today I started to read about this new children’s toy store called “Rich Frog” on the KWT site. It just opened on Church Avenue between East 3rd and East 2nd on the North side of the street. A toy store on Church Avenue? why not another nail salon or cellular phone store? Why change a bad thing I ask you.
So on the way to Golden Farms this afternoon to see the latest Polaroid’s taped to the cash register, I decided to take a slight detour and check out this place. There must have been some kind of explosion in Park Slope or Bay Ride, because a store just landed on Church Avenue that certainly must have come from somewhere with a much better BID (Business Improvement District) than us. I mean this place is so nice and cute looking I thought I was dead and in Lee’s across the street in "Brooklyn Heaven".
You have to check this place out I tell you, it’s just nothing like I have seen on Church Avenue since I was a little kid.
And for everyone who has been asking for something “nice” on Church Avenue. Well, this may just be the start of the great “downfall” of schlock that has invaded the boulevard of my youth in the past 30 years. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not looking for a “Little Things” or a 7th Avenue “transplant”. But Church Avenue was actually a really wonderful strip back when I was a kid, and no one ever “goofed” on it either like they do today.
So let’s all try to support this place and give it a whirl, before the next tornado picks it up and drops it back in Park Slope or Bay Ridge. Where it’s just “another” store on a nicer avenue than ours.
And just maybe with our help it can be the "Lee's" or "Kenny's" that your kids can someday remember when they are 50 years old.
Around this time of year is when they’d usually start appearing along the side streets of Kensington and Windsor Terrace. Big brown paper bags being clutched and carried by the tiny hands of young children. Or maybe even a heavy worn A&P paper shopping bag with twisted twine handles burning the fingers of some teenage kid with its heavy weight.
Yes, with precious cargo inside their warm brown bellies, we’d just make sure never to carry them along Church Avenue. Because you never know if you would be caught by the local “beat cop” or even worse your mother walking out of Walbaums on East 3rd street.
Just like little soldiers they’d march by my house too. Unfamiliar faces never stopping to talk and always looking straight ahead. Because when you “bought”, you always made sure to walk down someone else’s block besides your own. For you never knew who might see you, or catch you with the “stuff”.
Sometimes “mistakes” were made too, the heavy brown paper bags were dropped or just ripped in two. Succumbing to the weight of their massive load they spilled their contents along the sidewalks like candy. And frantic attempts were made to pick up the “stuff” before anyone else could see. Pockets were hastily filled and shirts were stuffed. And kids just walked away looking like paper dummies on Halloween night.
Yes, these were tough times in Kensington and Windsor Terrace, especially if they didn’t double bag it.
With many bags being filled up to the top, it was hard not to notice what was inside, because their cargo was always red. Yeah, a bright red no matter what the year. And I guess we were always environmentally conscious, and “green” before our time, because we never used plastic, no just brown paper please.
When it came to buying the “stuff”, it was always someone that knew someone else that did your dirty work. And they usually had to go somewhere pretty far to buy it too, either way down on East 2nd near Ditmas Avenue or up on Greenwood in Windsor Terrace. No one ever “sold” on your own block you know, and even if they did, you never found out.
One time I was actually allowed to enter a cold damp dungeon of “selling”. An anonymous side entrance of a house on East 2rd street, and the password “Frankie sent me” still lead to some hesitation of the part of the "seller". Because you never knew who you could trust nor who may be a rat in Kensington Brooklyn.
I remember it was a large room in the finished basement of a red brick house. The air was still cool, even on a hot June night. Everything was just the brightest red, and the smell, oh, the smell was nothing like you have ever known before. A strange sweet smell that was almost floral. And the "stuff" had beautiful names like, Fountains, Mats and M-80’s. Block-busters, Helicopters and Bottle Rockets. Things were usually sold by the "gross" or the dozen, because once you were allowed in, you never bought just "one".
Oh, and the brown bags? yes, enough brown bags to last a lifetime, along with enough gunpowder to blow up half a city block.
Yes it was "Fireworks" season in Kensington Brooklyn, and I'm sure glad that I never smoked.
Being humiliated by other kids was always quite normal for me at Ditmas JHS on Cortelyou Road. You see when I was about twelve years old, I was well over 200 pounds and had a size 44 waist. So being made fun of and laughed at almost every day by the other “good looking thin kids” was just a another cross I had to bear.
I remember sitting in Mister Sorkin’s Art class at Ditmas that day. He always played either Neil Young or Santana on this small record player that he kept by the window. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Black magic woman” while painting a watercolor, along with “Only love can break your heart”.
“Oh, I have a boyfriend for you Susan, how about Ronald?” Randy Brandis and Susan Gold just laughed hysterically at that thought, while looking directly at me. And Susan Gold was the most beautiful girl in the seventh grade too, which made it just that more embarrasing.
And besides being the fattest kid in class, I also had a terrible stuttering problem. So trying to answer them back would have only lead to more laughter, so instead I just buried my head in my painting and tried not to pay attention to them both.
The laughter of others just comes easy when you’re fat, especially in Junior High.
“We don’t want fat Ronald, you can have him”.
I was always the last one to be chosen for baseball in the schoolyard too. The biggest fattest kid that couldn’t hit a ball or even catch one.
Yeah, humiliation comes easy too, especially in Junior High.
And my mom used to get doctors notes for me too, because every time I had to go to gym I felt like throwing up.
Yeah, just me and my geeky Jewish friends standing on the sidelines trying to survive another day at Ditmas JHS. Jason Kerner, Authur Triesman and Murry Israel. No wonder most of my friends were Jewish, it must have been the doctor’s notes.
“Hey mister, you better stop eating before you get any fatter”
I just ran from the dinner table and to the pond behind our house in the Catskills. My mother found me about thirty minutes later hiding in a small tree behind the pond.
“Why did grandpa say that?”
My mom just took my hand walked me back to the house. I didn't speak to my grandfather that night.
And then there were the patches my mom used to sew between my thighs, because the pants used to just wear away after a month or so. Along with my aunt Beatrice who would count how many chicken legs I ate at dinner in Queens Village. And of course the continuous laughter of the “skinny kids” at Ditmas who always found something to make fun of about “Fat Ronald”.
"Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" or was that "Fatboys"?
Now, I was always a skinny kid you see. They even used to call me “the skeleton” when I was about five years old. But something happened when I was about eight years old, and you can see it in my class pictures too. From one year to the next I just started to get fatter and fatter, until I was quite obese at twelve. Yeah, 200 pounds and a size 44 waist at Ditmas Junior High. What a wonderful time I had, I tell you. It was all so priceless.
And forget a “glandular problem” when it came to me being fat. No, I ate too many "Ring Dings", "Yodels" and third servings, it was just as simple as that.
Humiliation unlike physical pain usually lasts a lifetime, and when you’re fat, it just comes with the territory.
But then something happened, and I don’t know when it started. People started telling me that I was getting taller and was losing weight. Buy the time I was 14 years old I stood about six feet and weighed around 155 pounds. Somehow I stuttered less and gained more confidence too. The kids that were making fun of me every day at Ditmas were just not paying attention to me anymore. And I was actually buying jeans at the Gap instead of the “Fat Boys” department at Mays down on Jay Street.
By the time I went to High School I was known as “slim”, and it all seemed so strange to me. Because I thought I was still being made fun of somehow, still very sensitive to anything weight related, even the word “slim”. And It took a very long time for me to get over the Ditmas experience, even well into my twenties.
I guess I should be happy that my son prefers a carrot to a candy bar, or a head of lettuce to a bowl of ice cream. He's even skinnier than I was at his age, and hopefully won't end up being the butt of everyone's "fat" jokes by the time he's in Junior High.
But although it wasn't very pleasant for me, I think the ridicule from others made me a better person, even if it was about being fat or having a stuttering problem.
Yeah, Neil Young, Mr. Sorkin's art class and Randy Brandis. I never realized at the time how luckey I was, and never knew some 37 years later that I'd be the one getting the last laugh.
You know I really do my best when it comes to remembering all this stuff. But thanks to a lot of you natives out there "the truth can be told" as they say. In my story about Shawn Gorman climbing the chimney of PS 130, which I must have spelled the word "chimney" twelve different ways. James mentioned that Shawn was actually wearing his skates when he climbed the dam thing. And you know what, I think James is right. Because if Shawn did it in his sneakers that would have been too easy. And besides, the Gormans would have skated there from Church Avenue without any shoes.
So James, I tip my hat to you. Here is James’s comment:
My name is James, and I was there that Sunday morning when Shawn climbed the side of P.S. 130. What you failed to mention, or notice, was that Shawn actually had his roller skates on at the time. I remember seeing him use the rubber toe stoppers (remember them?), fitting them inside the groove of each step. To prove that I was there, and knew this kid, I can share this one important piece of information: He's always fancied himself a monkey. He even used to claim that he owned a monkey.
Thank you James (But I still can’t remember anything about the monkey)
And as for “Living in our skates”, I was as guilty as the next guy.
• I always used to climb down the three flights of stairs in my house with skates and full goalie equipment on. Oh, and then up them too. It used to drive my Grandfather crazy.
• I used to drive with my roller skates on and later roller blades, (please don’t tell GEICO).
• I used to wear my roller blades after work in the elevator of 9 West 57 before I would skate home to Brooklyn on a Friday night with Tommy Brennan.
• I used to wear them in the bank, post office, Foodtown, etc, etc.
• Sometimes I still put them on in the F-Train, walk up the subway steps and skate home from the station.
So you see, the image of Shawn Gorman climbing a chimney with skates on now makes perfect sense.
And as far as driving with my skates on? Well, I quit that bad habit years ago, so please don’t worry.
This morning I had to laugh when I read the story about these two guys that climbed the new Times building across form the Port Authority. They basically climbed a metal ladder that wraps around that building, because that’s how it was designed. They say it’s to save on air conditioning, but let me tell you I’d rather pay Con Ed a few more bucks a month. Because the whole design is quite hiddious, and looks like someone got the blueprints backwards. But that’s just my opinion you know.
Yeah, two guys scaling the outside of a building that basically has a permanent ladder attached to it. No big deal is all I say.
Because you see, back in about 1975 there was little Shawn Gorman and the PS 130 chimney. And the story about what Shawn did that morning never made the headlines, because no one really saw what he did except us. And we knew better than to call the police.
The PS 130 school yard used to be a heck of a lot bigger than it is now. Before the board of education decided to ruin our roller hockey court with more classrooms. Oh, did I say board of education, pardon me, it must be my age. Because "DOE" just sounds like something my grandfather used to hunt for in the Catskills during November. But then again that’s just my opinion you know.
It was just another Sunday morning in Windsor Terrace and there we were as usual using the PS 130 schoolyard as our practice court for roller hockey. I know we used to annoy the poor people that owned the house right behind the schoolyard too. Many a hockey puck deflected off my goalie stick and hit the side of their house, including their windows. I guess the couple that lived there weren’t big hockey fans, they always kept our pucks and cursed at us too. And on a Sunday morning no less, what nerve!
The Gorman’s were a big bunch and usually joined in on our Sunday morning games at the school yard on East 5th and Fort Hamilton. I think they lived somewhere off Church Avenue on the other side of Coney Island Avenue going towards Flatbush. They may have lived above a store too, but I really can’t recall.
Now with all due respect, the Gorman boys were great hockey players. But I think things may have not been perfect once they got home, if you know what I'm saying.
And Shawn, one of the youngest Gorman boys, was a sweet looking kid with red hair and freckles who looked like he just walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except he cursed like a sailor and was always doing these crazy dangerous things to impress his older brothers, and today would be no different.
So there I am in all my goalie equipment waiting for the next puck to be shot. Out of the corner of my eye I see Shawn climbing the side of the school, with his skates on no less. I think it may have been where the auditorium was, it was only one story high and used to stick out from the back of the school facing East 5th.
He somehow climbs up to the top of that structure and then makes a beeline straight to the brick chimney on the side of the school. Now if you ever noticed the chimney of PS 130 it has these insets that almost look like steps. They are about one or two feet away from each other and go all the way up to the top. So Shawn gently places the toe stop of his skates on each step, and wraps his arms around the side of the bricks and starts to slowly scale his way up.
We all start screaming for him to get down including his older brothers who were skating with us.
Well, before you know it Shawn is almost to the top of the brick chimney, with nothing holding him except his nerve. He finally makes it to the summit and then just sits on the top. Like a red headed bird on a flagpole, there was little Shawn Gorman way up in the sky, just giving his brothers the finger, and still wearing his roller skates.
After about fifteen minutes Shawn decided to come down, scaling the side of the chimney in the same manor that he scaled it up in. One skate after the other with both arms wrapped around the bricks until he got to the ground.
Once he was on the pavement his older brothers gave him hell. And Shawn being Shawn just laughed as they were punching him. Just another day in the life of little Shawn Gorman trying to impress the world.
The other day we were walking home from Prospect Park and passed by PS 130. I told my wife and son about how little Shawn Gorman scaled up the side of the school with roller skates and nothing holding him except his nerve. I think they may have chalked it up to another “tall tale” of my childhood in Brooklyn.
But let me tell you, somewhere there’s a forty five year old man named Shawn Gorman. And I’m sure he remembers what the view looked like from the sky, high above Windsor Terrace on a warm Sunday morning back in 1975, while still wearing his roller skates.
His fingers, yes there was something so beautiful about his fingers. They were the longest and most gentle fingers you have ever seen.
And he stood like a giant too. He had legs that just seemed to go on forever, and arms that could reach as far as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Oh, his uniform, let me tell you about his uniform. It was always the brightest of white you know, and clean as a whistle. He also wore a little white hat too, it looked something like a ship captains hat.
And with long nicotine stained fingers as cold as ice and as yellow as corn, Morris would gently pick the change out of the palm of your hand and then lean down and give you your ice cream bar.
Yeah, just like the giant in “Gulliver’s Travels”, that was Morris.
I think he also wore one of those change machines on his belt too, it was silver and had these different cylinders for pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes.
You see, Morris was our ice cream man. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.
The bells on his truck had a very distinctive ring too. They jingled like those on Santa’s sleigh. Full of music, full of life. Nothing at all like the cheap sound of the Good Humor man. No, Morris’s bells were probably made of sterling silver instead of tin.
And what made Morris special to us was his kindness. Pure gentle kindness from a man who probably would have scared the living daylights out of anyone if he wasn’t dressed in an ice cream man’s uniform.
You see Morris had to stand about six feet five, was as skinny as a flagpole and chain-smoked to no end. From what I remember too, he smoked the same brand as my dad. That distinctive “Camel” could always be seen sticking out of his shirt pocket.
And Morris also died young, just like my dad. Too many “Camels” bought him a headstone way before his time, and only left us with a nasty Good Humor man who never liked us.
Yeah, I could just see him like it was yesterday, his truck parked on Avenue C between East 3rd and East 4th, long tall and lean standing there like a gentle giant. Waiting for us hand him our dimes and quarters after another day at PS 179.
And if you didn’t have enough money, Morris would let you slide and pay him another day. Or he would even break an ice pop in two pieces, if you only had a nickel. Just the gentle kindness of a man who drove an ice cream truck and knew all our names.
Yes, The ice cream man of Kensington. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.
You know sometimes I get real tired of writing about the way it used to be here in Kensington. Unsupervised five year olds running up and down my block, teenagers playing stickball in the street, Morris our chain-smoking ice cream man lighting a “Camel” as he hands you your “Bullet Bar”. Oh, and lets not forget rolling down my driveway with our tricycles and making a sharp turn before almost getting squashed by an oil truck. That ones bound to give any parent a heart attack no matter what the year.
Yeah, sometimes this whole reminiscing thing is just too much even for me. How much of this crap can a person remember or even write about. Just save it for your “I recall Kensington in the 70’s monologue” in some smelly Catskills resort before you go senile why don’t you. And besides big guy, if you were really paying attention, you would start to notice that Kensington is actually changing before your eyes. So stop writing about the 60’s and 70’s, open your front door, and see what’s really going on today in 2008.
Well, my son hasn’t rolled that empty baby carriage down my driveway into the path of a speeding car with the watermelon inside yet. And he hasn’t shot a “Zebra” gun filled with hard green peas into the face of a Sears’s delivery van driver like I did back in 1968. Wow, that wasn’t exactly noteworthy on my College resume. Oh, but that’s right everyone went to city college back in 1975, including me. Could you imagine, six years of a “Free” college education at Baruch and all I do is write a blog about Kensington? What a waste of 70’s taxpayer money!
But there is a change in the air my friends, and you can just feel it. The kids from up the block stand in front of our house and yell for my son to come outside. They play with ants on our stoop, well, actually squash them. They ride up and down the block with their bikes and even roll down the sharp incline of our driveway and make those same turns that we did as kids. Wow, they even blow bubbles on my stoop and have water balloon fights. And get this, parents with other kids stop by and talk while their kids play on our front lawn.
Kids having fun on the sidewalks of East 4th again, someone please wake me up, I must be dreaming. Because it’s not supposed to be this wonderful you know. What the hell am I going to write about if the past is starting to become the present? No more “we moved from Fort Greene to Kensington?” from my wife. No more “you should have seen the block when I was a kid from me. No more “you know we used to hang out on my stoop all the time” because we’re doing it now again in 2008.
Can Kensington be turning into a mini Park Slope?
Can my block be returning to a 60’s kind of place minus Morris our chain smoking ice-cream man?
Can “Kensington Stories” be a thing of the past? (Please pardon the pun.)
I really don’t know, but I got to tell you that I have never seen so many young couples with children walking down my block. Not to mention the twenty-something kids who are also moving here, probably priced out of Williamsburg or GreenPoint.
Just a big wave of new folks keeping us natives curious.
So what’s really going on in Kensington you ask?
Well, this is the Ronnie Lopez study, from my front stoop no less.
It seems many of the older parents who still lived here after their kids grew up, are finally selling their houses. You know, just too much house, and too much hassle for some older folks who are ready to pack it in and move South. Not to mention some grown up kids that could use the money from their parents after they sell their Kensington wood-frames.
Just a win-win situation for the whole family, including the IRS.
And guess who’s buying these houses or renting apartments inside them? All of you guys! A whole new generation of “Kensington Stories” starting to grow right before my own blue eyes. You are from Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Windsor Terrace.
You may even be from other states and foreign countries, including Manhattan.
But please don’t be sad about Church Avenue, because it WILL change, just give it some time folks. Besides, have you seen how cheap those bananas are at Golden Farms?
Yes, East 4th is changing along with the rest of Kensington. A once quiet street is starting to awaken again with the sounds of children’s laughter and parents voices. The Kensington that I once knew as a kid is starting to come alive as I grow older. And it’s truly fascinating for me to see it all once again, truly fascinating indeed.
And if you don’t believe me, just catch the next water balloon fight the kids have on my front lawn, or the children telling stories on the stoop as the sun goes down.
Oh, but just one last thing. I promise I’ll keep that empty baby carriage in the garage away from the kids. Because you never know what they’ll want to roll down my driveway and into the street when your not looking.
So you see, sometimes dreams do come true, even in Kensington Brooklyn.