The other night when I was walking home form the subway I couldn’t help but notice the metal gates that were fully open where the “Deal 99 cent store” used to be.
The inside of the place was totally bare, it was vast and empty except for a few guys welding in the back. I hear a new bank is moving in, so I guess they’re getting it ready for construction.
As I stood there staring I couldn’t help but think about the old Beverly Theater that used to be there when I was a kid. The area that the 99 cent store used up was basically the long hallway that lead to the doors you opened to go inside, along with where the concession stand used to be. I guess the rest of what was the main single theater is now the PS 230 annex behind it.
It was interesting seeing that area totally void of anything, so big and so empty before the construction starts for the new bank. I could just see the movie posters that used to line the walls as you walked up the long hallway before you entered the place. Along with the ticket booth and the young teenager waiting to collect your ticket standing by the front door.
It was a Kensington of yesteryear, just a distant memory that’s all.
But you know what, every time I walk by the PS 230 annex I hear children’s voices, sometimes laughing and yelling inside the school. And I can only hope they’re having as much fun as we did, in a time when the Beverly theater stood where their school is now.
When we laughed and yelled too. So many years ago in an old movie house in Kensington Brooklyn, that was simply known to us as the “Beverly”.
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.
When I was a kid, Thanksgiving night was usually spent on the road driving upstate to our house in the Catskills.
With the 63 Rambler station wagon chugging up the West Side highway. I always made sure to stay up long enough to see that big billboard-like truck that was somewhere near the Chinese embassy up by 42nd street.
Remember the lights it used to have on all it's wheels? They looked like they were rolling, although the thing just stood in one place for something like 50 years.
And there were always a lot of orange hats in our car too. Because it was hunting season upstate, and you never knew if someone would mistake us for some deer when we went sledding the next morning.
Yeah, there I was little mister Kensington Stories with a great big plastic orange hat over my little head. And the same punishment was doled out for my older brother Joseph too.
Oh, and my dog Skipper, well, because he was pitch black we never let him outside. No, he most certainly would have been mistaken for a sixty pound Black Bear.
Well, those post Thanksgiving weekends were sure fun. And thank God everyone knew where the house was once when the guns went off and the deer went down.
Yes, there was no one prouder than my dad or grandfather when they had a dead deer tied to the roof of our 63 Rambler. Just slowly driving down East 4th street so everyone could check it out.
Sometimes the damn thing would have it's tongue sticking out too! Wow, that really made people "stop and stare" if you know what I mean.
Well, these days are a little different, I don’t really hunt and neither does my wife. And she’s from Texas too, so that’s really shocking.
When we go upstate these days after Thanksgiving I still bring those orange hats though. We even blow an air horn before we go sledding down the hill in front of our house.
But the only thing we have tied to our roof on the way home may be a sled to use in Prospect Park. Just ready to scream and yell "without" our orange hats, when this snowy Catskill winter finally reaches the streets of Kensington Brooklyn.
You know I'm thankful that I got married again, because the ten years between marriages was just getting a little expensive and lonely. There were trips to Europe, countless dates, new cars, constant nights out in the city, and an infinite amount of spending money. Woops, Lets try that again Ron!
You know I'm thankful that I got married again, because the ten years between marriages was lonely and just about all I could take. So one spring day in 1997 my next door neighbor Joan Rudner asked me if I would be interested in meeting someone she worked with.
Well, there was a lunch date in Rockefeller Center, love at first sight, and a wedding at City Hall a year and a half later. (My wife just couldn't deal with wedding plans you know.) We were lucky enough to have a wonderful two weeks together before my wife became pregnant. Nine months of constant vomiting surely earned her some purple hearts.
Now some ten years and two beautiful children later, I'm thankful for my beautiful wife and wonderful life. All because of my next door neighbor Joan and her matchmaking skills. Not to mention my wife who has been able to tolerate me all this time and survive my countless stories about Brooklyn. (Still giving thanks after all these years)
I'm also thankful that my wife agreed to move to Kensington and the house I grew up in after we lived for five years in her Fort Greene Brownstone. A 2500 sf. garden duplex, with all original detail and marble fireplaces. And I still get an earful every time we visit her sister or check up on the house.
Oh, that’s OK, that place is just way too cool now for an original like me, and hey at least I have a driveway! (Still giving thanks after all these years)
I'm also thankful that I grew up on such a wonderful block. And there was no better block than ours too. It had the energy of any playground that you would take your kid to on a sunny summer day. There were just dozens and dozens of children out on the sidewalk playing all the time. We made friends and lost friends, we fought with each other and then made up. We learned how to win and how to lose. All without our parents ever getting involved. So I'm thankful for our own little "Lord of the Flies" or present day "Kid Nation" we just called East 4th. (Still giving thanks after all these years)
And the friends you made were the friends you kept for life. After almost 50 years we all still keep in touch with one another, and still feel free to argue about almost everything from sports to politics. All without ever losing that strong bond of perpetual friendship. So I'm thankful for living on a block that harvested so many good souls that I can still proudly call my friends. (Still giving thanks after all these years)
Then there were all the Dads on the block who stepped up to the plate after my Dad died when I was seven. From Bob Brennan stinging my hand during hardball catch to my Uncle Pete teaching how to ride a bike and swim. All these men including my Grandfather Paco and my Uncle Manual filled in all the missing pieces that my Dad left me. So I'm thankful to have had them all in my life when I needed them the most. (Still giving thanks after all these years)
What about my Mom? Just a pillar of Polish strength that taught me how to cope with any situation that life deals you. From a husband dying at 39 to a son at 13 four years later. All with a downs syndrome daughter to cope with, who ended up becoming my Moms best friend and certainly taught me the meaning of patience and love. I'm thankful Isabel was never put up for adoption, and became such a big part of our family for 33 years. I am also fortunate to at least have a Father and Brother in my life, although it was short lived. Throughout all of her terrible storms, my Mom just survived each challenge and was still able to save a smile for my sister and I. So I'm thankful she was my Mom and taught me the true meaning of the words "Love and Cope” (Still giving thanks after all these years)
I'm also thankful that I married into such a wonderful family. Bill, Ralph, Mariadele, Clay, Reed, Gracie and everyone else that makes up my extended family. They are all the "best of the best" and have never asked to borrow money once. Now that's what I call a GREAT family. (Still giving thanks after all these years)
And what about Thanksgiving you ask? Well let me tell you about those Thanksgivings at 399. It all started early on Thanksgiving morning, my brother Joseph, little sister Isabel and my cousins Pete and Denise would all either walk up or down their respective flight of stairs to our grandparents apartment on the second floor. We would then camp out on the rug in front of the TV and wait for the start of the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. My grandfather Paco would be sitting on his "Lazy Boy" right behind us all waiting for the show to start. The turkey cooking in the oven usually started in the morning too, and you could just about smell it throughout the entire house. Later in the afternoon the whole family would be there sitting around the dinner table. The voices of my aunt and uncle, grandparents, cousins, brother, sister, mother and father could be heard throughout the hallows of the wooden stairway. Not to mention the dogs barking too. So, I'm thankful for living in an attic apartment with my Mom, Dad, Brother and sister. Being able to grow up with the entire family in one big house, on one great block, in the City of Brooklyn. And still have all those wonderful memories to write about for now and the years to come. And Hey, Still giving thanks after all these years!
Ok, so how many times have you heard that line of crap in the past few months, huh?
Well, at six foot three and 215 pounds, I’m too big to fail as well. That’s because I actually keep track of how much I owe on my credit cards, have been paying my mortgage once a month for the past 18 years. And have never missed a private school payment for both of my kids in the past seven years.
Let’s see, I also paid off all my car loans, kept Con Edison happy for decades, and even sold my soul to the devil in order to make my Keyspan payments through all those rough Kensington winters.
So how is it that I know where I’m going, and how much I owe, while Citibank and the rest of these clowns. The “too big to fail because they are the pillars of our economy” are all totally caught with their pants down, and suddenly are all on the verge of going bankrupt?
You mean to tell me that all the “pillars” of our economy are that weak that they can all start to go belly up that quickly?
Was anyone really looking at the “books”? Because I look at mine all the time, and basically know where I stand at any given moment. Oh, what about if I loose my job you ask?. Well, I also have a plan in place for that scenario if it ever occurs.
Yeah, I keep track of my "books" every day because I know I'm just too big to fail.
Ok, so you want to tip your garbage man right? Well, NEVER, NEVER let anyone see you do it, especially his or her sanitation inspector who may be following in a car.
Because it is totally against the law for them to take it, and it could cost someone their job.
My wife, who is from Texas, once ran down with a 20 to give our guys in Fort Greene. You know the bill just out in the open for the world to see.
Well, the poor guys reacted like she had a bomb strapped around her and kept telling her to "keep back" with the money. It was the funniest thing I have ever heard, and my wife was totally confused because they didn't "want" it.
Truth is their inspector was actually following them that day too, so they would have gotten into some big trouble if they did.
Instead do the old "hidden bill in the palm trick", when you shake their hand with a little "how ya doin" in a real Brooklyn accent. You may also want to put the money in an envelope inside of a card. But once again make sure you do it in a without the "world" looking at you. And especially their inspector who may be right behind them in a city sanitation car.
Now, I'm not makin all this up you know, one of my good friends just retired from Sanitation and has "re-educated" me on the subject many times.
Because even us natives slip sometimes and need a little talkin to by the experts.
Does anyone remember American Motors? Well I do, my dad had a 63 Rambler station wagon that we used to drive upstate in all the time.
And for all those car buffs, Rambler became American Motors back in 1967. Just a simple name change to make it sound cooler and more appealing.
I must have been about six years old when he brought it home from the dealer over on 39th street near 14th Avenue. I remember looking out of the window of my grandparent’s second floor apartment and seeing the two-tone black and white station wagon parked in our driveway.
It was much smaller than the 57 Plymouth station wagon we had earlier, but when your six years old the inside of any car always looks big.
Yeah, the Rambler, just sleeping in the back seat during those countless Friday night drives upstate. With my dad flooring the gas pedal the “packed” Rambler would barely make it up the very steep hills of Huntley Hollow that lead to our house.
Well, although the station wagon was a wonderful car, I never really fell in love with it. No, I had my eyes on another American Motors car. And it was simply called the AMX, and it was the most beautiful car I have ever seen in my life.
When I was eleven years old back in 1968 I saw my first AMX on East 4th street. It was a light metallic green AMX that Bob, the caretaker of the Church on Avenue C owned. I would just stare as it slowly cruised up East 4th, It was just such a beautiful car with a perfect stamped tin body.
So I had AMX pictures in my room, AMX models in my house, I even had an AMX car that I raced at the Buzz-a-rama too.
No, there was no stopping my love for this car. Someday I was going to buy one, no matter what.
Now, the beauty of being single was that you could basically do anything you wanted without some kind of “ok” from another person. And while I was single from 1987 until 1997 after my first marriage, I always did what I thought was “best” for me. And that “best” was always spending my money on cars. Sure I bought 399 from my aunt and uncle in the middle of my second “single hood”, but I always made sure to put anything "car related" before the house.
Thus the; “wow Ronnie your place looks just like the house from the Munster’s TV show" statement from an old girlfriend who I brought home by mistake.
Hell, and it even had a front yard full of weeds too.
No, I wasn’t very good at keeping the house up, and it was once the worst house on the block too. But hey, at least I had some cool Plymouth Cudas in my driveway right? And who picks up their date in a 4600 hundred square foot wood-frame house anyway?
No, we’re parking the “Monte” by the Verazanno bridge tonight, not the freaking house. The house is for sleeping and making sure my mom has a roof over her head. No, never to fix up!
Cars are only what you fix up and make out with your date in, not your house.
But then I met my current wife Virginia back in 1997, and it looked like I was going to be in the marriage business again.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh no! just one more car, just one more car God before I get married again.
Because when you get married you never know what’s going to happen!
And of course it had to be the AMX!
So with some “jingle" in my pocket and some hope in my heart we drove all the way up to Connecticut, and I bought a 68 AMX for my “girlfriend”, well, actually Virginia my future wife.
Because it was going to be "her" car you know.
And that was it folks, my last car to restore and work on before I said “I do” again.
A 1968 290 AMX. I finally owned an AMX after all these years.
Well, I finally did fix up 399 East 4th, and it no longer looks like a prop from a “Friday the 13th” movie.
Yes, it’s amazing what influence a woman can have on me, but at least I got that last car in before I grew up.
Sorry for the blurry photo folks. From left to right; Peter Compitiello now about 46 living in New Jersey. Jimmy Spinner, also the same age, now an English teacher up in Conneticut somewhere, and also a fellow scribe who posts to my blog. Jimmy Brier, about 47, now retired from the police department. Jimmy spent many years over in the 75 out in East New York during the very wild days of the 1980's. And me on the far right.
Picture was probably from about 1979 or 1980, shot on my front stoop at 399 East 4th.
Here are some pictures from Dan, one of our Kensington Stories readers. Thanks for the pictures Dan, hopefully they cancelled school that day because of the snow storm. I also loved those old cars back then, they were as long as a house and had trunks so big you could fit a washer and dryer inside and do your laundry.
Oh buy the way, if anyone has any old Kensington photos they would love to share, I will post them on the blog. Please email them to: Mopar195@yahoo.com
I was very moved by a story my next door neighbor Rob told me yesterday. About a month ago an old woman rang his doorbell on a Saturday afternoon. His immediate thought was that she was a friend of his elderly tenant below him Mrs. Klein, and probably just rang the wrong doorbell.
“Hello my name is Mary Boyle, and I’m so sorry to bother you. But I just wanted to let you know that I actually grew up in this house as a child”.
“This is 403 East Fourth street?”
“It certainly is” said Rob.
“You know I haven’t been back here in over fifty years”. “The block still looks beautiful and your house looks so wonderful”.
“Would you like to come inside and see your old apartment, it’s really not a bother” said Rob.
“Oh, that would be a dream come true".
With that Rob helped her up the stairs and into his apartment on the second floor.
Rob told me that the she just cried and cried as she walked from room to room.
It was an extremely emotional experience for her and even Rob who walked by her side.
The old woman told Rob about East Fourth street and Kensington back in the 30’s and 40’s. About what it looked like before the big apartment houses were built on Beverly Road. She remembered a wonderful Church Avenue, and so many people that grew up on our block.
Tears just streamed down her face the whole time, because for this moment she was a child again, and back in the home she remembered so long ago.
Rob was moved by her stories and even asked her if she knew the Lopez family next door at 399 East Fourth.
“Oh, sure I knew them, I believe they bought the house sometime in the late 1940’s. They were very nice people”.
Rob wasn’t sure if it was the elderly woman’s family or maybe just a cab that waited for her out front. Because after the old woman was done, she just got inside a black Lincoln Town Car and drove away.
I wish I was there to meet this woman, but I must have been away for the weekend. For I would have loved to hear her stories about a Kensington, and a Brooklyn that was here so many years before me.
Oh, well, I guess there’s always next time. Because I'm still waiting for the Gordens and the Marcus's who grew up in my house.
Ok, so I have been riding the F-train from Church and McDonald Avenue into Manhattan on a daily basis since September 1972. That’s over thirty-six years of railway fun folks. And you know what, it’s still not over. Because I’m only 50, and not going to be retiring any time soon.
So what does 36 years on the F-train do for someone? Well it certainly gives you a lot of stories to tell, that’s for sure.
Let me start by telling you about all the stations along the F line that used to be practically void of any human life.
When the train stopped at these stations the conductor opened the doors and then shut them not even a second later. Thus my description of an “open and shut case” with the “case” being the train doors of the F.
The year is 1972. So lets start our trip at Church Avenue on the F and make our way into the city.
• Church Avenue- This station was always crowded, even years ago.
• Fort Hamilton Parkway- Open and shut those doors, because no ones getting on here. This station is totally empty except for some kids tagging the walls, and some drunk that fell asleep after a long night at the Terrace Bar on East 4th and Greenwood Avenue.
• 15th street Prospect Park- Another open and shut case. And don’t you even think about going above ground, because you’ll probably get whacked in the face by some gang walking with chains. I used to be scared to death when my hockey coach Mr. McCourt held weekly meetings at his house over by Bartell Prichard Square.
• 7th Avenue- Only the brave pioneers who moved into Park Slope dared to be here. Keep it open and let them get on before they get mugged.
• 4th Avenue- Signs of human life again, keep them open conductor.
• Smith and Ninth Street- Totally deserted except for a couple of dead bodies. Please close the doors before someone accuses me of killing them!
• Carol Street- “Bada Bing” wasn’t even invented yet, and those guys never took the train anyway. No they drove Caddies instead. Everyone who got on at Carol street must have been “connected” back then. And we’re not talking about a freaking Verizon network either.
• Bergen Street- Hello is anyone home??? “Bada Bing” station number two, with a lot of Brooklyn Tech students ready to get mugged before school.
• Jay Street- Hello Mays, Korvettes and A&S, conductor keep them open.
• York Street- Are you kidding? Why does the train even stop here? I have never seen a human on this platform in my life.
OK, so that’s our trip through Brooklyn. Now Manhattan was also different too back then.
Let me just tell you about the stations that were also void of human life back in 1972.
• East Broadway • Second Avenue • 23rd street
Some exciting things that happened on the F in the past 36 years.
Ok, one time I was riding the F and the doors opened while the train roaring between Church and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Now I mean totally open for about ten seconds with nothing between you and the dirty tunnel walls. That was about 1975 and it was one those really old trains that you now see at the transit museum.
Another time some guy got stuck in the doors of the train after he got on at Fort Hamilton. With the train going full speed I helped pull him out before it made it into the tunnel. Once again one of those old trains that had a mind of its own.
The time my grandmother fell on the tracks at Church Avenue with the train lights in sight up by Ditmas Avenue. If it wasn’t for some “angel” who told the token booth clerk, my grandmother would have been killed for sure.
The time some guy dropped his handgun on the floor of the train while he was standing next to me. He even apologized too.
The time my friend Steve McNally laid down a bunch of pennies on the rails at Church Avenue and the train squashed them flat. Who needs that machine at the New York Aquarium when you got the F train?
The time I fell asleep and woke up at Coney Island, I wasn’t even drunk and ended up missing my dentist appointment at doctor Sheps on East 3rd street.
The time I lost my shoe between the train and the platform at Church Avenue. I must have been about five years old and still have the picture of me sitting on Santa’s lap form Macys to prove it.
Yes there was the guy that was exposing himself. The weirdo masturbating during rush hour, along with thousands of encounters with the homeless.
It’s just been one “long strange trip” that never seems to end.
You know I was reading this article in the Brooklyn Paper the other day about how this whole economic mess is effecting many of the stores on 86th street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
And not "schlock" shops like here in Kensington, no these were some decent little stores that made that particular strip a little bit more “upscale” than Church Avenue.
I was also reading about how many of the “cool” little coffee shop places were also “deep sixing” out in Williamsburg. Once again the byproduct of the economic times we’re currently in.
Then suddenly my mind wandered, and I thought about my family’s pond upstate.
Now it’s a small pond, a perfect circle about fifty feet in diameter. It was dug out about the same time my grandfather Paco built the house in 1956.
When I was a kid, my grandfather would always try to stock the pond with brown trout, bass, perch, and many other fine fresh-water fish from the Catskills. It was a labor of love, and it was always a lot of work to make sure the fish all survived throughout the years.
But then in 1976 my grandfather Paco passed away, and my cousin Pete and I weren’t exactly dragging pails full of fish to the pond. No, we were hanging out in Brooklyn and doing what young guys usually do in the city, while the pond was never ever stocked again.
So what happened to our pond in the past thirty years or so? Well, we ended up with thousands of “Catfish”.
Mud sucking, algie eating, live through anything, Catfish!
You know, those black little slimy fish with those long whiskers, and a barb on the back of their fin that can pierce your skin like a needle through a sheet of paper.
So what does all this have to do with that strip on 86th street and our beloved Church Avenue you ask?
Well, every time my kids want to go fishing and catch something, I drag them down to our old pond. They throw the line in the water and catch fish after fish after fish. They just have such a great time and they don't care what they catch, as long as it's a fish.
Cool coffee shops and nice pretty little stores may just be the "Brown Trout" and "Rock Bass" of 2008's Brooklyn. Gasping for air in a muddy old pond called "recession".
While on Church Avenue here in Kensington?
Well, all I can say is a Catfish is better than no fish at all.
Would someone tell this poor woman that the election is over?
Um, Sarah, I hate to tell you this, but the election is over. And It looks like people in this country are a little smarter than you. That’s why they didn’t fall for all your nonsense.
Oh and Sarah, I hate to tell you this, but if you were as beautiful as Janet Reno, um, I don’t think anyone would be giving you the time of day. And I really don’t think they would have picked you as a Vice Presidential running mate.
Oh don’t worry Sarah, if you keep yourself in shape and watch those wrinkles you may look decent in four years. But not as beautiful as me, no I don’t have any wrinkles, even at 51.
So please go away and hide somewhere, because whenever you speak it makes my skin crawl. And you remind me of a big mistake that’s been with us for almost eight years.
You know for many people Kensington is all new, a place cheaper to live than Park slope, or a neighborhood a lot safer than Williamsburg. There is Church Avenue with it’s “not much to offer” pretty face. Along with some public schools either on the “wrong” or “right” side of Beverly Road.
Yeah, these gigantic wood frames are sure pretty, and you could probably sell your brownstone in Park Slope and buy three of them in a row. And all with driveways too.
Kensington is sure ripe for the picking, especially if you are “new”.
But then there is the Kensington that others knew, a place where they grew up. A place that holds a infinite amount of childhood memories along a dirty looking Church Avenue.
99-cent stores where a movie theater once stood, wonderful toy shops where nail salons now polish and lacquer to no end. Or nameless, faceless take-out places where some of Brooklyn’s best bakeries once lived.
What’s is “oh so new” and cheap to you, is still a cherished memory for others.
Others who now live far away, and sometimes dream about the streets and houses where once they once grew up.
The air was ice cold that morning. Puffs of white smoke rose from our mouths.
The black tar of East Fourth was hard as a rock and the roll of electric tape that we used as puck, was frozen solid.
It slid on the street like a piece of ice, sliding and sliding until it gently tapped the wooden blade of Pete’s Sherwood hockey stick.
With a flick of his wrist Pete snapped the puck as hard as he could.
The puck hit the frozen metal goal post of our hockey net and deflected sideways like a bullet, disappearing into the bushes that grew in front of Bob Brennan's house.
But then suddenly it re-appeared, and gently fell to the ground, wobbling until it was still.
Little Tommy Brennan (our goalie) did his best glove save move too. Like a performer on stage Tommy just “posed”, hoping for someone to take a “picture” well after the puck stopped moving on the sidewalk.
But the puck didn't go in Tommy's glove this time, no it "hit the post" instead, and totally missed.
“Someone get the puck” “Hey, you shot it, why don’t you get it?”
While the guys were arguing over who was going to get it, I just skated over to the puck and flicked it back in the street.
My wheels were frozen solid that day, and so were my toes.
You know we used to play street hockey all the time back then in the 70’s. Sometimes at temperatures well below zero too.
And I still have the lumps on my shins and the hairline fracture on my left elbow to prove it today.
No, it was never “too cold” to go out to play back then.
The "99-Cent Store" numbers live on Church Avenue between McDonald and East 2
Ok, I must be blind because someone sent me an email telling me that the eight foot high blue 99-cent store numbers actually re-appeared two doors down. They are so big on the small building they are bolted to, that they actually cover a part of the window of an apartment that someone must live in.
Gee, that’s something to wake up to every morning huh? A gigantic part of a number nine staring you in the face while you’re eating your oatmeal.
Wow, I am so proud to have something so pretty on Church Avenue. It really makes me feel like calling all my old friends who grew up here down for the weekend just to see it.
I guess someone in Park Slope actually turned the offer down to bolt them to a storefront on Seventh Avenue.
Rich Frog Toy Store Church between East 2 and East 3
I know things are bad folks, but if we want that store to survive we really have to throw down some dollars there once in a while. Because every time I walk by it the owner is standing on the sidewalk and the store is empty.
Please support this place before it becomes another nail salon.
Falafel Fusion Church between East 2 and East 3
I know the hours are strange, but once again: Please support this place before it becomes another nail salon.
The Buzz-a-rama 500 Church right off Dahill
My cousins are now open for the season Saturdays 2-6 Sundays 2-6
A fun place for kid’s birthday parties, and even adults.
You know I'm starting to get this feeling that Church Avenue is like the earth was millions of years ago. You know, when only certain types of life forms could survive its atmospheric conditions.
Those strange little things that swam in the ocean and looked like jelly fish. The funny looking fish with gigantic teeth and “Rodney Dangerfield” type eyes? Or how about your simple "Foraminifera" from 50 million years ago.
Well, maybe the nail salons and 99 cent stores are those creatures. And the “atmospheric conditions” of high rents and “too” varied a market of foot traffic cause them to survive and nothing else.
Because those places are always packed, while the other "nice" places are totally empty and on the verge of going out of business.
Every November around this time of year they'd suddenly appear in the gym at PS 179. Like giant tall metal monsters they would all be lined up against the wall that faced our schoolyard.
As a kid I was always curious about what they actually were.
Maybe new refrigerators for the cafeteria? Maybe candy machines for our classrooms? Maybe some type of robot that would replace our teachers?
And then the next week they were gone, Just like that, gone.
I must have been in third or fourth grade before I finally knew what they were.
“How many children can tell me what those machines are down in the gym?’
Miss Saltzman looked as beautiful as ever when she asked that question. With long black hair, full red lips and white go-go boots, Miss Saltzman was any eight year old boy’s dream come true.
Oh God, I just had the biggest crush on my third grade teacher. And she even told my Mom about it too, how embarrassing was that?
“Yes Ronald, can you tell me what they are”
“They are voting machines Miss Saltzman”.
My face turned a deep red, because that’s what always happened when Miss Saltzman looked at me and smiled.
Her white teeth just glistened, lighting up our dark depressing classroom above Avenue C.
“Yes Ronald, that’s exactly what they are”. “And tomorrow is Election Day, the day that people all across America will vote for a new president”.
You know every time I go back to PS 179 to vote, a million memories come back to me. The years I spent there as a kid, my teachers, my friends, the games we played in the schoolyard.
There was our principal, Mister Gartenloub, The assistant principal Mister Tribach.
The Thursday’s we had to wear a white shirt and red tie because we had “auditorium”.
My first day of school in September, along with my last day of school in June.
The countess times we practied the Beatles "Hey Jude" for our graduation ceromony back in June of 1969.
And of course the day my brother died on June 18, 1969. Just afew days before summer vacation.
It's a felling I just can't describe, It's like your whole life comes rushing back to you in the form of a six story school.
Yeah, thats what happens everytime I go to vote at PS 179.
And it’s funny, but everything in there looks so much smaller than when I was eight years old. The gigantic vast gym where I first saw those voting machines looks no bigger than my living room.
The ceilings that always looked so distant, well, if I jumped high enough today, I think I could probably touch them with my fingers.
And Miss Saltzman, well, she must be about sixty five years old today. But I bet you she's still as beautiful as ever.
But you know what the funny thing is, Those voting machines still look like the ones I saw when I was five years old. Switches flicked for Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Regan. Along with those long red metal handles pulled to record your votes, Yeah they still look exactly the same too.
So who says you can’t go home and have a million memories come rushing back to you. Feel like a child again, and sometimes almost start crying when you walk out the door.
Yeah, all this is still there for me to visit, and I do it every few years when I go to vote.
At my treasure chest of childhood memories, simply called PS 179.