This picture has to take the cake. It was taken one morning a few weeks ago just after it snowed. The snow in the picture only lasted about an hour before it all melted completely away once the sun burned through the clouds above.
It will probably be my Christmas card for next year, just a little photo retouching on those power lines and it's done!
Yes, the "Catskill Webcam" was certainly worth it after this shot.
The candy store was no larger than your cubicle at work, or at least it seemed that small. It was right next to Dennys on the McDonald Avenue side off Church Avenue, just a few feet from the subway entrance. It may be a Bangladeshi hairdresser place now.
The two guys that ran it were simply known to us as “Izzy and Benny”. They may have even been brothers, but we never really asked them. Izzy was the older of the two; he was rather skinny with salt and pepper hair. He usually wore a baseball cap, no matter what the season. Benny was shorter and a little heavy; he had red hair and green eyes and always wore a “cab drivers” cap.
The inside of the store had a black and white linoleum tiled floor. The magazines and comics were directly to the left as you walked in. A small counter was to the right. It had chrome edges with a red Formica top. There were also about four stools by the counter where one could sit to get a quick bite to eat.
Izzy was usually there during the day, while Benny did the night shift. It was one of the few places where you could still buy a “Vanilla Egg Cream” all the way into the 1980’s. It was also one of the few candy stores where you were timed on how long you could read a magazine. And I’m sure being 16 years old didn’t help with the clock either.
“Hey Boys, come on, this isn’t a library, if you want to read go to the library, I heard they just built a new one on East 5th and Fort Hamilton". We usually heard this verse from either Izzy or Benny, and it really didn’t matter if you finished you egg cream or not. No, it was strictly business at Izzy and Benny's.
Izzy and Benny also had more than one thing in common. Besides running the store together, they must have shared a tragic past. Both men had numbers tattooed on their forearms and were Holocaust survivors.
Just sitting by that little glass window, sliding it open to collect your change for the morning paper. The numbers usually appeared from under their shirt sleeves when either one reached for your quarter. A quick smile and “thank you” and the numbers once again hid out of sight. It just seemed like they wanted to keep them hidden anyway.
I guess in some ways they both watched me grow up too. From the days I held my Moms hand as she walked me down the subway entrance by their store, to a six foot three longhaired teenager being told to find that new library up on East 5th.
“Why you all dressed up, a date?” “No Izzy I’m working in Manhattan now”. “Well, save your first dollar, and tape it to the wall like this”. Izzy pointed up to an old dollar bill above the grill. It was yellowed from cooking grease. “Why, a hair cut too?” “Yeah, sometimes things change you know” I said.
This morning, almost 35 years later I stopped by the store that was once known as Izzy and Benny's. I looked at the former site of the simple little newsstand. There inside the store were two or three barber chairs where the counter used to be, and a long wooden bench where the magazines racks were. Through the glass I could see the owner cleaning up and getting ready for the new day.
And you know what, I’m sure his simple barbershop will be the memory of some grown man someday. Thinking about someone he once knew when he was a kid. There will be a dollar taped on the wall, and talk of someone’s first day at work.
“Yeah Izzy, sometimes things change you know” I smiled and said goodbye and headed for the train.
“Hey, mister, can I help you?” There standing by the barbershop was the owner. “Can I help you with something?” I just looked at him and said, “you already have, you already have”.
With a bright flash of sunlight the huge Cadillac Coupe Deville slowly crossed Beverley Road. It’s enormous chrome bumper just reflecting off the Kensington midday Sun. As it slowly lumbered up East 4th street we could hear the sound of its big block V8, just a low pitched “purr” as it rumbled closer towards the open mouth of my driveway.
“Ok, when I say three, just roll it down, and push it as hard as you can”.
With my dirty little hand on the top of the worn out tire, I could feel the dryness of the treads. I stared at the yellowed white wall and wondered why it was never white. Awaiting my “orders” I stood there frozen holding on to the smelly old tire.
“Ok, Ronnie, One, Two, Three...NOW!
I pushed the tire as hard as I could; it started to wobble but then straightened out as it picked up speed. It made a strange “crackling” sound as it rolled, picking up little pebbles inside the dry rotted treads.
“Run, run, run”. My brother Joseph yelled frantically.
I quickly turned around and ran as fast as I could up my driveway towards the back of my house. A quick left and into my back yard and to our ultimate hiding place, the one-foot gap between the two garages in my back yard.
The loud skidding sound of the car sounded like some animal being slaughtered, its vibration could be felt in my teeth. It was quickly followed by the “thump” of the car hitting the tire.
With our little bodies squeezed hard between the rough cinderblock walls of the garages, my brother and I just looked at each other and started to giggle.
But then there was trouble, and we knew it might happen, the sound of a car door opening, followed by footsteps running up my driveway. We just held our breath, and froze between the damp walls of the garages.
“Come out you little bastards, I know your there”.
The footsteps were very close now, he was in our backyard.
“I’ll be looking for you kids, don’t think I wont get you”.
The footsteps started to disappear as he walked down my driveway and to his car. We heard the “chunk” sound of his door closing, followed by the sound of his car driving off.
“Good job Ronnie, good job” my brother Joseph whispered in my ear.
Now, we never ever saw one of our tires actually hitting a car, and could only envision what it must have looked like from the hollows between the garage walls. Because if we just stood there at the top of my driveway at 399 East 4th, and waited to see the “show”, well, that’s just “childhood” suicide. And we were too smart for that.
I still can’t understand how no one in my house ever noticed what we were doing. I knew my Mom was home along with other adults throughout the day. And my Grandfather Paco would have sent us back to Spain to have “Franco” do a number on us if he had seen what we were doing.
And yes, it got worse as we got older. We became more creative, and I picked up some cool sewing tips from my Mom when I assembled our six-foot “dummies”. Pushing them off the fender of a parked car and into the path of a speeding taxi or truck. Gee, no wonder why the girls on the block never looked at us.
And still no screams from the windows of my house.
But then there was the highlight of my career.
One time we were at a Halloween party at my friend Timmy’s apartment building on the corner of Albemare Road and East 5th street. It may have been about 1977. Once again another masterpiece of sewing and paper stuffing I dragged through the streets of Kensington under the cover of darkness. Some time during the party we decided to open the fifth floor window and place the dummy on the windowsill. Loud screams of “don’t jump Ronnie” were used to prompt about a hundred windows to open up from all the surrounding apartment buildings. With our audience in place and the theater fully seated, I heard the voice of my deceased brother in my ear. One, Two, Three…NOW.
The screams of all the people watching could probably be heard as far as the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island that night. The dummy just fell from the window like a lead balloon and snapped in two as it hit a tree below on the sidewalk. Again more screams form our apartment house audience as its head, body and torso all separated from each other.
“Good job Ronnie” is all I heard.
I remember trying to pick up a girl at the party that night, and guess what? She didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Oh gee, I wonder why?
So what do you say? "Boys will be Boys?” "Children must Play". I have to tell you no matter what your thinking the "Drug Dealers" never made a penny of the East 4th street boys. No, we had other things to do in Kensington, like roll tires, or sew a pair of Levis to a shirt.
And as far as dating or getting a girl in "trouble" over at Plum Beach at twelve midnight? no, I was painting a face on an old volley ball and getting ready to "duct tape" it to my new twin brother stuffed with yesterdays Daily News.
But God forbid I ever see my son out there at the top of my driveway with an old tire from our Nissan Quest. You know what I'll do. I'll just run out there as fast as I could and grab that tire, look at him square in the eyes and say...
"When I was a kid I spent alot of Saturdays in that theater and saw many of those cheapo matinee movies like "The Christmas that almost wasn't" in the '60"s. I cracked up reading Randy Reis's memory of the Beverly, especially the Inky and Steven Gumpert parts. I was in their class in IHM and I can picture them doing the ketchup thing in the bathroom. They were hysterical. "
Mike leaned against the fence in front of the Margaret Court on East Fourth Street. With bloodshot eyes and a cigarette burning away between his fingers, Mike just stared up towards Beverly Road without any expression.
Wearing white shorts, and an old polo shirt, Mike looked a litte out of place in 1975. Black socks and brown sandals also made Mike as different as can be in a time when most guys had long hair and wore platform shoes.
I guess Mike was about thirty-five then, he stood about five foot nine and had a hard looking potbelly. With a touch of gray in his red hair Mike also sported a rough looking mustache. And all “Crazy Mike” did everyday was just hang out in front of the Margaret Court on East Fourth. Oh, and Mike also lived with his Mom too, and she was about seventy years old.
Whenever Mike spoke to you, he kind of shouted as he put his face right up against yours. I mean it wasn’t that he was trying to be aggressive or anything like that. No, it was just the way Mike spoke to you, and nothing more. And because Mike had that unusual habit, it always gave one a clear view of his eyes. Which were usually red and bloodshot.
“Hey come here Ronnie, I want to ask you something” “Does your Mother drive you fucking crazy too?”
Mike’s face was right in mine, all his nose hairs were "countable" and his breath smelled like alcohol.
“Yeah, you know sometimes, but what you gonna do” I said
If there was one thing I learned about Mike, it was always to agree with him no matter what he said. No, don’t ever disagree with Mike or get him angry, because you’ll never know what he’ll do. Just always agree, all right?
And then there was the horrific screaming that used to come out of their apartment at the Margaret Court. And it was always Mike and his mother fighting about something, and yes they never whispered. they both just screamed at the top of their lungs.
“I’m going to kill you ma, I’m going to kill you” “Don’t you dare touch me or I’ll call the police, get away, get away!” “I said I’m going to kill you” “Put down the knife Mike, put down the knife” “Ahhhhhhhh, Ahhhhhhh"
But don’t worry this was normal, and someone else already called the police. And there was usually a patrol car in front of the Margaret Court almost every day.
Yeah, Mike and his mom surely had an open relationship and never kept anything inside that festered into hate.
I remember the night the City coroner’s truck and a bunch of police cars were parked in front on the Margaret Court. And for some reason that night there was no screaming coming out of the second floor window. No, tonight it was silent, no screaming at all.
Mike’s mom was holding on to the arm of a cop as they carried a long black body bag on a stretcher.
No, no more screaming at the Margaret Court, because Mike was dead.
We never really knew how Mike died. Some said it was drugs, others said he just had a heart attack.
But the strange thing is ever since the day Mike died we never saw his mom.
And maybe never really knew "who" was holding the knife.
Ok, so I love some of the comments I get on some of my stories, and I feel compelled to publish them front and center. Here's one from Randy Reiss, one of my old hockey buddies from Avenue F. This comment's about the "Beverly", our old movie house that used to stand where the "T-Mobile" store is now. Oh yes, that stain on the screen from when Stevie McNally threw that egg so many years ago.
"I remember when it was 50 cents, and the stain was there then too. And so was the short fat cranky matron (yes she would walk up and down the aisles with her flashlight). She was always yelling at me and Inky to put out those cigarettes! We were only 9 or 10, so we'd go smoke in the bathrooms. The Beverly was our playground.... we'd put folded ketchup packets under the rubber bottoms of the toilet seats and wait for the explosion when someone say down and got covered with ketchup. Years later, we'd drink in the balcony on Friday and Saturday nights and Steven Gumpert would beat up anyone who had the guts to yell "Quiet!" up at us. Inky and I went to the premier of the Poseidon adventure, sat in the 1st row, smoked some funny stuff, and laughed out lot hysterically the whole movie. Great memories!!!"
And more from other loyal readers...
"As a child the Beverly Theatre was "majestic" to me, a place to let my imagination run wild."
"AHHH yes the stain how hilarious. I loved that theatre. $1 movies. All 5 ape pix for $1 too. AND the sticky floors. My mom said she always felt itchy in there. After that-I always imagined things crawling on my skin and I'd be scratching when I was there. BUT I still loved the place. Where could you go on a Fri or a Sat and WALK and pay $1 and see a movie and then go to Korner Pizza for a slice and walk home? What a great local economical evening of entertainment OR a rainy sat or sun? THE BEST. Sorry to see that movie house go!"
I can't tell you how many foreign lotteries I win every day. It's mind boggling I tell you, I must have racked up at least 25 billion dollars already this year.
Oh, and then the "good news" from Mohammed emails, and all those people killed in plane crashes. There must be something wrong with how they maintain those things overseas, because there's at least a crash a day.
But then again when you're the "King of Spam" it must be true.
9:15 am this morning, looking like a winter wonder land a day away from Spring.
2:00 pm this afternoon, wow, just add some sun and "poof" goes the snow
And 6:50 pm this evening, FINALLY we catch some deer under the apple tree on the webcam. Notice those two brown dots to the left of the tree, well, those are deer. Yes, there is life in the Catskills folks.
Oh, the sound of my tenant’s footsteps above me, there’s no sweeter sound I tell you. Just pitter-pattering above me in the darkness of a Kensington dawn.
Oh yes, and especially on a weekday, there’s no sound more joyous than your tenants footsteps early on a weekday, because that means someone’s getting ready for work.
Yes, work, there’s no sweeter word than the word “work” because that means someone’s going to be able to pay the rent next month.
And then it happens, the sound of water rushing through the iron pipes deep inside the cavity of these old plaster walls, to the second floor and then to the third floor bathrooms. These ancient pipes sing a wonderful song in the morning, because water rushing to two showerheads means that both your tenants are going to work.
And not soon after footsteps down the stairs and the sound of the old beveled glass rattleling as the front door slams.
Oh yes, today “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth”, because I have wonderful tenants who still go to work each and every day.
You can show me all the advertising you want about GM and whatever new product they have to offer. But, um, sorry guys, I'm still not going to buy a GM car with all the talk of you people going belly up.
And it isn't because I'm not a good American. No, no, not at all, in fact I actually own a couple of 70 Plymouth Cuda's and a 68 American Motors AMX. And their classics you know, as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July rolled in one. So, no, don't accuse me of being un-American.
And I don't know how many times I have to tell you that a 30,000-dollar car is a hell of a lot different from a five hundred dollar washing machine.
Maytag going belly up equals a good deal for me.
GM going belly up equals a car I would never buy because I ride in it along with the wife and kids.
Psst...I don't ride in my washing machine guys.
Oh, but then there was that time Neil O’Callahan put me inside a dryer at the laundromat on Church Avenue back in 1978.
The next time you’re walking from the subway on Church Avenue, make sure to make a left into the "T-Mobile Store".
Take out that two dollars you have in your pocket, and hand it to the lady in the ticket booth on the side where that guy sells all the hats and gloves.
She will probably not smile and give you a small "Admit One" ticket. You will then walk up the long entranceway that leads inside the Beverly and immediately start to smell stale popcorn. But not to worry, because you see them popping it in the machine on the other side of the heavy wooden doors.
As you open the door to the go inside, a young man will be standing there to take your ticket. You hand it to him and he rips it in two, one half goes into a wooden box, the other you put in your pocket.
Hey, how about some fresh popcorn and a Coke? You walk up to the concession stand and immediately notice a roach under the glass, walking upside down. You pass on the popcorn and opt for "Snow Caps" instead. You hand the woman a dollar and wait for your change, you think for a second about telling her you saw a roach.
But hey, this is the Beverly and Church Avenue isn't exactly Madison. So you just walk away and up the ramp that leads to the main theater. And there it is again, no matter how many times you've been to the Beverly the chandelier that’s bigger than a house is just beautiful as ever, hanging from the ceiling. It must have over a thousand lights, and hundreds and hundreds of crystals. It simply gleams like a star in the darkness, even though it's covered with dust.
The 70's have not been good to the Beverly and you wonder what that place was like when your Mom was young. Did the screen still have that giant stain on it? Was the floor always sticky? were the seats always torn?. Suddenly the lights dim to black, the screen awakens and the movie starts.
You just sit there staring at that big magnificent chandelier, its crystals still sparkling in the darkness, and you can't help but imagine a Beverly that you never knew, a long, long time ago.
Ok, so today I will be tearing down our "Winter" lights, because I dare not call them Christmas lights. Because having Christmas lights up a week before Spring is just insane and reminds me of that crazy family that used to live up near Greenwood Avenue. They had a Santa face nailed to their house in mid July. Now thats crazy, right?
Just think, only a hundred and forty-five miles over those mountains lies Kensington Brooklyn. Yes today it's sunny and bright in the Catskill mountains and the snow is just about all gone. And the trees, well, they'll stay bare for at least another month and a half. Thats because up in the mountains it's always about three weeks behind Brooklyn when it comes to the trees sprouting their green. But let me tell you when they do, you will be amazed, because only good things come to those that wait.
I just don’t understand how people can live their lives stealing from others. I mean this schmuck steals from everyone so he can have a nice house and brag about all the materialistic nonsense he has. Including a wife who has more plastic on her face than my 74 Cuda has under the rear quarter panel. Boy, I must have used about a gallon of Bondo to patch that damn thing back in 1979.
Oh, but back to this schmuck Madoff, so this jerkoff is going to die just like the rest of us including the homeless who life in the subway. I wonder what it’s like to be close to death and reflect on your life knowing that you were a very bad person. Yeah, just like the rest of us, except you can expect some devil to be sticking a pitchfork up your ass instead while your in Hell.
Gee, I’m sure glad I’m not Bernie Madoff, because that must really hurt.
Biting off more than you can chew (your big mortgage payment)
Ok, so I was just as bad as the next guy when it came to taking out home equity loans and refinancing my house a hundred times. But if there was one thing my grandfather Paco taught me it was always be nice to your tenants and fix something as soon as it breaks. Because if it wasn’t for my tenants, I’m sure I’d be up the creek without a paddle. So some advice to my fellow landlords, kiss your tenants asses, because without them you’d be nothing but a red dot on a foreclosure map. Yes, I love my tenants and didn’t raise any rents this year. You see Bernie, that’s how you can die feeling good.
That chimp up in Connecticut that chewed that woman’s face off.
Ok, so the woman that owned that chimp slept with the freaking thing? Let me tell you something, I don’t want to imagine for a minute what the hell was going on between her and that monkey. That’s just all some real freaky stuff that belonged in a lab rather than someone’s bedroom.
Alabama and German losers who kill others first before themselves.
Ok, so I was told that if you shoot yourself first, you can then shoot all those devils with those pitchforks in Hell who are trying to hurt Bernie Madoff. Now, that would be fun right? And you wouldn’t have to hurt anyone else who’s above ground right now. But those nasty devils with those pitchforks, I know they’ve “done you wrong” so why don’t you just go and get them before they hurt Bernie.
Buying a car from GM right now.
Now why would I want to buy a 30,000-dollar car from a company that might be out of business soon? I see all your ads in the Daily News and NEVER give them a second glance. No, Ron Lopez is not going to buy a GM car right now no matter what kind of deal you’ll give me. Here’s a little advice to GM from the man in Brooklyn. A 30,000-dollar car is a lot different form a four hundred dollar washing machine. If I knew Maytag was going out of business tomorrow, I would still buy that four hundred dollar washing machine without any hesitation. That’s because I’m not going to be driving it around with my family in it or taking it to be serviced somewhere. No, I can just call Vinny from Servue appliance repair if there were any problems. But that 30,000 dollar Chevy Impala? Well, I just don’t have the same confidence in that product right now, and I hope you can understand why I just skip over your car ads in the Daily News.
Riding your bike in Prospect Park with all your spandex and almost hitting people (especially little kids) who cross WITH the light. All because you think you are in the “Tour de Fart”
You know I’m six three two hundred and twenty pounds, and I’m an ex-hockey player. I can also roller blade like hell and can take you down like a little girl on a tricycle. Listen up all you little girly men riding in spandex, if you fail to yield to people who are crossing with the light in the park, I will take you down. Or better yet just throw my hockey stick between your spokes. Hey, why is it that when I ride my bike in Prospect Park I actually stop for people who have the light, while you don’t? So please beware of a six foot seven (add four inches for the skates), guy with a hockey stick in the park. He may just be the last person you see before Bernie Madoff with a pitchfork up his ass in Hell.
The sun is about to rise over the mountains in the Catskills. Our remote webcam is still working after almost three months. Still no human life, but yesterday we there were some wild turkeys and deer prancing around on the front lawn.
You know my connection to this land stretches over 50 years, so this webcam just makes that connection even stronger. Especially at work after a boring subway ride.
Sometimes we go through life never realizing what kind of influence we had on other people.
I have to tell you I was caught totally off guard when Jimmy Spinner, one of the younger kids on my block. Told me what kind of positive effect I had on him while he was growing up. I mean there I was, this goofy longhaired teenager sitting on my stoop with a bunch of younger kids, including Jimmy, all around me. Just telling jokes or listening to the Eagles on my “boom box” until the stars came out. No, not once ever thinking that I was influencing them in any way possible. Especially in a positive manner.
But Jimmy recently told me that his choosing to hang out with me, instead of his other friends on East 8th street probably kept him away from some very bad stuff. Including drugs. And I have to tell you, I really didn’t know what to say. In fact I actually felt a little embarrassed for the first time in my life. Yeah, big old Ronnie Lopez not knowing what to say, because I always have an answer you know.
Me a positive influence? You have to be kidding, right?
Well, this all brings me full circle to Freddie Schefferman. A wonderful creative person who had the most “pied piper” effect on all of us, including me.
Just a bunch of young teenagers sitting around Freddie, talking about anything and everything until the stars came out. And not once ever wanting the night to end, because we were all just hanging out on Freddie's stoop and having the time of our lives.
Freddie should only know what kind of influence he had on all of us including me. And he probably never knew it at the time.
On any given August night back in 1975 you could find me down the block on Freddie Schefferman's stoop. But not just me you know, the rest of the boys also made Freddie's stoop their perpetual brick and mortar home. Glen Gruder, Robert Brennan, Neil O’Callahan, Jimmy Spinner and my cousin Pete Liria.
Now most of us were anywhere from fifteen to twenty at the time, and Freddie was much older. Freddie could have easily passed for Jesus or Tommy Chong from “Cheech and Chong”. With long wavey black hair, a beard and little round glasses. It was hard to imagine what Freddie really looked like too.
Freddie may have been 35 years old at the time. His mother and father owned the house he lived in. And from the stories Freddie told us all the time, we were pretty sure that he grew up on the block too. I know Freddie graduated from Pratt in Brooklyn and did work “freelance” from time to time. Hey, he even owned a 68 Triumph Spitfire convertible, so he had to have some kind of dough. But most of the time Freddie just loved to “hang out” on the block. Just looking like “Jesus” in his bell-bottoms, sandals, and yellow and white striped shirt. Leaning against the white picket fence of his house talking to anyone who wanted to “hang out” with him.
Freddie did spend some time in Vietnam too; I think he told us he used to make maps there. But we never pushed it because who knew if he would “Freak out” about it. And Freddie knew just about everything you know, politics, art, religion, history, philosophy, and most important, Brooklyn.
“You kids should have been around here when the Trolleys ran on Church Avenue. You couldn’t imagine the shit we used to do with the Trolleys”
Freddie did share many of his Church Avenue Trolley stories with us. From squashing pennies on the rails to making late night explosions on the high wires by throwing a metal pipe up at the lines, hoping to arc them both at once, and causing something to blow. I guess it did work sometimes, because Freddie told us many stories about being chased by the cops up our block too.
“What the hell are you guys doing here with me?” “you should be out getting laid somewhere, you guys are really schmucks!”
Now we never asked Freddie the same question, because it was still a Saturday night, and the clock just struck midnight for him too. But we just took his insults in stride, and just listened to more of his stories.
“Did you guys check out that new program “Saturday Night Live”, now that’s some funny shit. Hopefully NBC won’t cancel it next year like they always do. Bunch of schmucks!”
Freddie was a Jewish 60’s flower child with an edge.
“You guys are little assholes, didn’t you see that girl walk by and smile at you?”
“Why don’t you talk to her and get her number?” “When I was your age I had a girl on each arm every night”
No one ever dared to ask Freddie what happened, because we never saw him with anyone on the block.
No, instead of a beautiful girl on each side of his shoulders, Freddie had us instead. And let me tell you, we were far from being beautiful.
Freddie hated the establishment too, every President sucked, every Governor sucked, every Mayor sucked. But then again we never asked Freddie if he ever voted.
On very rare occasions Freddie would let us down into his basement to see all his photography equipment. Freddie knew all about mold making and casting too. In fact he made me my first fiberglass goalie mask that I still have today. We may have even seen “pot roaches” in empty cat food cans down there too. If Freddie did smoke pot, we never knew it, because he kept his personal life in the basement.
Sometimes some of my friend’s dads would playfully rib Freddie about the fact that he seemed to be blissfully un-employed. Especially my friend Robert’s dad Bob Brennan.
Now Bob worked on the World Trade Center and told us countless stories about being up on the tower crane some 110 stories up. About how it swayed back and forth and almost got him sick on windy days.
“Hey get a job you bum”
Freddie would just laugh with all of us sitting around him. Like overgrown Santa’s elf’s around our spiritual leader.
“Hey, I am working” “I’m teaching these kids about life, including your son” “I’ll send you the bill next week!”
Sometimes another great Brooklyn philosopher and storyteller, Freddie’s downstairs tenant “Bobby Wilson” would join in on the conversation. Bobby Wilson was stocky and stood about six feet tall, with a big square jaw, dark blue eyes and midnight black hair. Bobby always looked like he was on the verge of murdering someone. He drove a tow truck for “Al & Leo’s” collision on 36th street near Fort Hamilton. In fact the place is now called “36th Street Collision” and Al is still the owner. Bobby always wore a dark blue jump suit with red script letters “Bobby” on his left chest, With the police scanner blaring and the volume up high, you always knew when Bobby was on the block. And don't forget, he had his name painted on the truck also, so you just couldn't miss him.
I think if Bobby didn’t know Freddie, he may have just beaten him up because of his long hair. Bobby hated hippies, freaks, the un-employed, the protesters, and the left-wingers. I think you get the picture. Yet together they were our own "Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby" right on East 4th street. Just arguing about everything and taking opposite sides on any subject. And of course Bobby’s solution for everything if conversation and debate didn’t work was to just “kick their asses” Most of Bobby’s stories were about his adventures driving his tow truck for Al and Leo. And usually when he was the first person to get to some horrible accident somewhere before the cops.
“Now who has a weak stomach here?” “Because if you do, I don’t think you want to hear this one”
“OK, I heard this call on the scanner about a roll-over on McDonald and avenue C. It was late at night and I’m just a couple of blocks away. I get there and the car's totally in flames. It looked like a 69 Charger but I wasn’t sure. And the guys still in it because I see his head. So I try to pull the guy out of the car and the only thing I can grab is his head. So I’m on the ground squatting like this, just pulling and pulling. And them “Boom”, I fall backwards and the guy’s head comes off right in my hands. I’m on my back just looking at his head in my hands. I think he was even trying to talk to me too cause his lips were moving”.
At this point Freddie would be looking up at the sky above East 4th, just rolling his eyes.
“Hey Freddie you think I’m bullshittin?” “Cause if you do I’ll go upstairs and show you the guys ear, I cut it off as a souvenir”
Freddie would just shake his head.
And the stories just went on and on, and the hot summer nights just rolled on by. I guess our parents were torn, on one hand they wanted us to be going out more, but then on the other all my mom had to do was poke her head out the window and see us all on Freddie’s stoop.
But just like everything when you were young, you thought it would never end. Until one day our nightmare came true.
Freddie told us he found a job and was going back to work.
Well, back to work, that’s ok. Because I worked too, and went to college also. So maybe Freddie couldn’t hang out till 2 AM anymore.
And then it hit us like a brick, my heart sunk, my world ended. Freddie told us his job was in Alaska, and he was leaving within a week, and would not be back for years.
We left the stoop that night feeling very depressed, but still held out some hope that Freddy was full of shit.
But then the day came that would be etched in my mind forever. Just a few days after Freddie told us the news I was sitting on my porch with some of the guys. Across the street was some guy walking with a clean white shirt and kacky pants. He crossed the street and started walking towards us. He had short black hair, clean smooth skin and a big bright smile. He also wore little round glasses.
“Do you guys know who I am?” We just looked at him perplexed and said “no” “You’re kidding, you don’t know who I am?” “Sorry” we said, “we have no idea” “You schmucks” the voice sounded familiar, yet the face wasn’t. “I’m Freddie, you assholes”
Oh, my god, it was Freddie, he cut his beard, hair, and was wearing a white button down shirt and dress pants.
We all just stared at him in shock.
“I told you guys I got a job, what did you think, I was full of shit?”
I guess maybe for once Freddie wasn't full of shit, no he was really leaving the block, and wouldn't be back for years.
I don’t remember the day Freddie left, I may have been working or in college at the time.
We tried to pick up the pieces with Bobby Wilson and his tow truck stories, but it wasn’t the same without Freddie. Then tragically Bobby’s son Bobby jr. got real sick and died of a brain tumor. And Bobby just wasn’t the same anymore.
From what I heard he just stayed inside his apartment and did a lot of crying.
The stoop in front of Freddie’s house was empty, yet there was still hope that at least Bobby would be back someday.
But then one day when I got home from work I remember seeing a NYC morgue truck in front of Freddie’s house. I figured it was Freddie’s mom that died because she was quite old. As the black body bag was being carried out of the house, Bobby’s wife Eileen was holding on to it and crying. It was Bobby Wilson.
The doctors said it was an aneurism, but we knew it was just a broken heart. Because Bobby just could not live without his son.
I remember the funeral at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue. The whole block must have come that night.
And there was Bobby in the casket. With a cigar in his pocket, and still looking like he could kick someone’s ass, even in death.
Yeah, it was over. Everyone was gone.
So the stoop remained empty forever at 418 East 4th. And after Freddie’s parents died he sold the house.
We moved on with our lives. Found girlfriends or got married. Some of us even moved away far from the block.
I heard Freddie finished his work in Alaska and finally did get married.
In fact, rumor is he still lives in Brooklyn.
But truth is, I haven’t seen him in almost 30 years, and neither has anyone else.
And I hope that some of those late night stories about Brooklyn and life rubbed off on me too. Because I grew up with some of the greatest storytellers in Brooklyn, although at the time I don’t think they had a clue that they were just that, “story tellers”.
And Freddie, wherever you are. Thanks for all those great nights on your stoop. Just hanging out and passing time, and giving me a "gift" I will never forget.
There was once the most beautiful little church on Avenue C between East Fourth and East Third street. It used to be where those townhouses are now, on the North side of Avenue C. Let me tell you this church was something right out of small town USA. It was this little dark wooden church that had a wonderful large grass lawn around it bordering East Fourth. Someone recently wrote about a "Strawberry Festival" they used to have there every year. It was kind of our own little Prospect Park right up the block.
It was just so pleasant to walk home from PS 179 and smell freshly cut grass once and a while. When you looked at that church and the grounds around it you felt like you where in some small town in the Catskills. Well, tragically the thing burnt down sometime in the 70's and in it's place they built those townhouses.
I am asking anyone if they have any pictures of that church to please send them to me. I would love to post them on the blog. One reader wrote once that her dreams of getting married in that church died the day it burnt down. Yeah, what a sad day when that church burnt to the ground, what a sad day indeed.
Ok, thanks to Will Roll we have more pictures of Kensington history dating back to 1951. This was a boy scout troop that used to be on Beverly Road somewhere near East 8th street. I think the small church is actually still there where they were based.
Will, feel free to describe in the comments section anything you would like to about these photo's.
Well after almost three months of solid snow the grass is finally showing on our front lawn. But just remember winter is far from over in the Catskill mountains. In fact one time in mid-April we walked through two feet of snow to get to the house.
Ok, so I’ve been enlightened a little on this one.
The question was: How come I never see anyone walking his or her dog in the street anymore? When I had my dog I only walked him in the street and so did everyone else on East Fourth. We let them crap between parked cars or in front of someone’s driveway. No, we never picked it up, because that was not a law back in 1969.
Firecrackers blew the stuff up, when it froze we shot it with hockey sticks, and it was the basis for the game “doody man” that we always played on the block. In “doody man” one would have to step in dog crap and then try to tag someone else before they reached the street lamp in front of 403 East Fourth.
Do you know all the games kids can’t play today because of the “clean up after your dog” law. It’s outrageous I tell you. Outrageous!
Ok, so people walk their dogs on the sidewalk because it’s easier to clean it up there. Rather than in the street where you might get hit by a car or a delivery guy riding a bike while you’re bending over. Who would want a pizza all over their back while cleaning up after their dog?
Dogs follow the scents of other dogs, and for about thirty years now people have been walking their dogs on the sidewalks instead of the street. So like the deer trails upstate on my property, dogs follow “dog trails”.
A dog today would rather crap on grass instead of a cold tar street. Well, maybe our dogs were different and were trained from the beginning to only shit in the street. My dog would sometimes end up with a bottle cap stuck to the hair around his ass. Was that wrong or just normal in 1969?
OK, somewhat understood.
But getting back to 2009, I have to tell you that most everyone I see picks up after their dog. From tough looking gang members to old ladies, most people seem to obey the law.
Oh right, when it snows… Now when it snows something else happens. The stuff ends up all over the place, it’s like 1969 all over again. Except it’s all on the sidewalks instead of the street. Is it the same dog? Is it the same person just sweeping it “under the rug” like I used to do when I had my own apartment?
Now this is the one thing I don't get about dog walking in 2009. Why is it when I had a dog back in the 60's and 70's I always walked him in the street. In fact everyone walked their dogs in the street back in the 60's and 70's.
I NEVER saw anyone ever walk their dog on the sidewalk. Thats why East 4th was usually full of dog crap when we played roller hockey. I think it made us better skaters drying to dodge the stuff all the time.
Remember the old "Curb your dog" signs we had in the city. People actually used to "curb their dogs" back then.
Now I'm not trying to be a wise guy or anything, but dogs back then had no problem making on the cold street rather than on grass like they do today. Is it something new, or is it just us?
Remember the 60’s group the “Monkees”, well their logo, (the word "Monkees" in the shape of a guitar) was one of the many beautiful pieces of artwork that Peter and Nick, (the two brothers that owned the business) produced in a small art studio on the East side of Manhattan. Nick once told me MGM paid him 250 dollars for that logo, what a bargain.
Oh, and remember all those 60’s and 70’s lunch kits you used to carry to school so many years ago. Well, from the Peanuts characters to the Partridge Family to Hee Haw to Barbie. Peter and Nick did all the original artwork for many of those metal lunch boxes that are now considered classics today.
And there were many other projects they worked on too, and it's hard to remember them all today. But chances are if you had ever seen an ad for Met Life or even their Met Life "Snoopy" blimp flying overhead. Peter and Nick certainly did the artwork for those pieces too. And Peter was especially proud of their blimp and how his hand drawn image of Snoopy was used for that job. A dark hanger in Lakewood New Jersey and a projector was all they used back then to paint the image of Snoopy on side of the Met Life blimp.
No, Charles Schultz didn’t draw everything you know. No, he was too busy doing the comic strip to bother with all the licensed stuff that Peter and Nick drew for him. And Schultz also knew both of them personally, which was kind of nice also.
And me, well I was lucky enough to draw Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts characters for many years along side of them. And it all started after I met my artist cousin "Manny", (Dolores Perri’s brother). (You know, she owns the Buzz-a-rama along with her husband,) at a new years eve party over at 399 East Fourth back in 1974. Manny sometimes worked with Peter and Nick and helped them with some of the overflow work they couldn’t handle back then.
Now, for anyone who's ever read a Clifford the Red Dog book to their kid, chances are my cousin Manny did the original artwork for the book. In fact Manny did hundreds of Clifford books going back to the mid 1960’s.
“Hey kid you want to help out at the studio?” “Peter and Nick could probably use a hand”
Well, that was December 31st of 1974 and I can only thank Manny for introducing me to Nick, and Nick for letting me work there for so many years. Life is indeed strange sometimes, and you never know what can happen.
So these are the things I just don’t get and they sometimes really annoy the hell out of me.
Why do people rush to grab a seat on the F-train just to get up two stops later? I mean these aren’t tourists, these are people I see every day on the train. And I’m not talking about some 85-year old woman here; I’m talking about some fairly young people who should probably be standing instead.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
To the dim wit car service driver who’s blowing his horn at six am on a Sunday morning across the street by the apartment house. Are you some kind of asshole? Don’t tell me you don’t know what time it is. You know when I was younger I used to throw D-cell size batteries out my third floor window at schmucks like you. But my wife doesn’t let me do things like that anymore. But my mom, well she always slept through everything.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
To the woman who works in slow motion at the Kensington Post Office. Let me tell you if I had to work at a job in slow motion all day just to screw the system, I’d probably put a plastic bag over my head instead. Is your whole life in slow motion? Even at home? Does your toaster and coffee maker have a slow motion button? What about your dog, does it pee in slow motion and hate the system too?
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
To the people that want to be oh so polite and park their cars all the way to the end of the spot between the two driveways in front of my house so two cars can fit there. Well, guess what. The Honda Fit that you thought was going to park there didn’t. Instead a Lincoln Town car did and that asshole is blocking half of my driveway. Hey, did I tell you the time I backed my Buick Century into the fender of a car blocking my driveway? Yeah, my mom, she slept through everything.
Oh yeah, I'm on a roll and couldn't care less about the money I lost in my 401K
What about the people who stand in front of the turnstile at Church Avenue and take their Metro Card out of their pocket at that point instead of 10 seconds before. We're all behind you waiting for you to swipe your card. Hello, take the freaking card out BEFORE you walk into the subway station.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
Ok, here's a really good one, people who actually have a video screen mounted to their dash board and are watching a movie while their driving. No, No, not a car service computer, I've seen them. No, I'm talking about the driver of a car watching a movie while he's going 65 miles per hour on route 17 on the way to Middletown New York. Do you think "Scully" the pilot of that US Airways jet would have landed that thing like he did if he was watching the "Blues Brothers?". I think not.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
Ok, ok, people who freak out over the "lead content" of their apartment and them smoke in front of their kids. And asbestos you ask? Let me tell you Pete and I pulled it all down for my grandfather in my basement over 35 years ago and we're still among the living. Yeah, the same people who complain about asbestos probably smoke in front of their kids too.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
Ok, Ok, you have to read the comments section below. You folks are cracking me up.
So here I am standing against the door at the end of one of the cars on the F train. The door that never opens unless you want to end it all and jump on the tracks. Well, no matter how crowded or un-crowded the train is someone will always squeeze right under my arm and stand right next to me. And no, not a good looking girl like when I was 25 years old. No, usually some little guy with a beard and glasses. One time I got so mad I put my arm around this guy and said; "I was waiting for you, where the hell were you last night?". Yeah, that got him away from me real fast I tell you.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
Oh maybe I'm just getting old thats all.
People that HAVE to talk on their stupid cell phone as soon as the F gets into the open air headed towards Smith and Ninth Street after Carroll. All this time from when you got on the train at Jay street, three stops before, you HAVE to call someone to tell them "you're on the train headed towards Smith and Ninth". Didn't you just call them a few minutes before to tell them you were going into the subway at Jay Street??? Hello, I have a good idea, why don't you have one of those GPS tracking devices sewn into your skin so your husband or wife can just track you on the computer at home. This way you wouldn't have to annoy everyone else with your senseless babble about nothing.
Someone please explain, because I just don’t understand.
Remember the "Hulk" when Doctor Banner starts to turn green? Well, I try so hard to not turn "Brooklyn", but sometimes I just can't help myself. It just comes out you know.
It must be about zero degrees today up on the mountain. Just watching the sunrise before I take the subway to work. You know this is John Burroughs country and I was told that the old beat up apple tree in the middle of the picture was actually planted by "Johnny Appleseed" himself.
When the locals tell you something, it's usually true. Or at least you hope it is.
Check out: (A Catskill Escape) to the right for very reasonable rental rates from May to October.
I must have been no more than eight years old when it happened. My brother Joseph and my cousin Pete were already across the street by the window of the “Mister Softee” truck as it played it’s mind numbing jingle. I remember running down from the stoop of my house, and NOT looking both ways before I crossed. Yes, I just ran into the street like the “street rat” I was.
The awful sound of the car tires skidding was the first thing I heard. Like an animal being slaughtered, the sound was high pitched and deafening. Then suddenly there was the flash of yellow to my right, I closed my eyes when it hit me, and I just flew through the air. My world had just ended.
The nuns never told us in “religious instructions” that heaven was so hot. And from all the pictures they showed us, I would think it was cool and windy because of all the clouds there. Yet it was just dark and silent. So I opened my eyes to look for the gate and someone in a white robe, but instead all I saw were black wires, silver pipes and the inside of a Goodyear tire. No, I didn’t think this was heaven at all.
Then slowly they arrived, the shoes, ankles and pant legs, blocking out whatever sunlight I could see from the bottom of the car. Yes, they came to rescue me, and I wasn’t dead at all. Someone then pulled at my feet and gently started dragging me from under the car. The pipes and wires slowly passed by my eyes until there was sunlight again.
There were at least ten heads in a circular pattern looking at me. They were the faces of my bother Joseph, cousin Pete and various adults including Mr. O’Callahan, my friend Neils Dad, who was holding onto my feet, because he just pulled me out. Most of the adults were telling me not to move and just stay still. I also noticed a man standing next to the cab crying hysterically. He was an old short man who looked something like Mickey Rooney. He was wearing a classic “cab drivers” hat. There were also some people yelling at him too, blaming him for what just happened. But I knew It wasn’t his fault at all, and I felt sorry for him.
And then in a flash I made my move, I just sprang to my feet and ran to my front porch across the street. The first person there I saw was my cousin Pete’s grandmother “Lita” from Spain. Although she didn’t speak English, she motioned me to sit and stay still. Then what she did next I will never forget, she pulled a purple flower from a bush in our front yard and handed it to me. She motioned me to smell it. I just sat there holding the flower, it was shaking uncontrollably in my right hand.
“Ronnie, Ronnie, my son”, my mom had just made it down the three flights of stairs and was now sitting next to me on our stoop. She just kissed my forehead. I was afraid to look at her because I knew the whole thing was my fault. She kissed me again and said it was OK. Then suddenly a police car and ambulance arrived, and now I knew I was really in trouble. I couldn’t look at anyone and just kept my head down when they took me inside the ambulance.
Even though I knew I wasn’t hurt, they made me lay down on the stretcher in the back anyway. They took me to Mamanodies Hospital in Boro Park and checked me out, nothing but a cut on my right index finger. When I got home that afternoon and walked up our front stairs, I still didn’t have the courage to look at my friends. I knew all the trouble I caused that afternoon was because I never looked before I ran into the street.
But what I remember most about that day was the image of the old man who drove that cab. The image of him crying against that yellow fender still haunts me today, and I never got to say I was sorry for what I did to him that afternoon. Because I’m certain thats a day he never forgot as well.
Oh man, it's always snowing up there no matter what! Even when it's sunny outside it snows in the Catskill mountains. Truth is our house is over 2000 feet above sea level, so we always tend to get snow while in town it's sunny.
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Once again I am asking for some old photos of Kensington. I guess anything earlier than 1990 is considered old right?. If you have anything you would like me to post, please email them to me @ Mopar195@yahoo.com.
I know Will sent me a bunch the last time from East 8th. How about anyone else? I know you got them somewhere.