Ok, so I thought my cousin Pete's skates were old? Inline skates in 1910? National Museum of Roller Skating?
Did someone lace my coffee this morning? because this can't be real.
I mean I know Pete and I were ready for the Pan American Games back in 1979. In fact we were ready to skate there from Kensington, but using a rubber ball rather than a "Scotch 88" may have turned us off to the whole thing.
And besides, with no Bill Webster or Fred Allen there, it just wouldn't be the same.
Hey, do you guys still have those quads? Because I think mine became part of a dolly I built to roll my transmission on back in 1990.
National Museum of Roller Skating: http://www.rollerskatingmuseum.com/hockey.htm
Hey wait a second, it looks like someone over the "pond" is stealing our building plans. And aren't those "Comfort Inn" flags the ones me and the boys stole back in the 70's near Kennedy Airport after a long night at of too many Rolling Rocks and Poker over at Glenn Gruder's house?
Something about "Kensington London" just doesn't seem right you know, especially the blue sky.
Ok, so one of my favorite bands from the late 70's and 80's was the Cars. And I am proud to say that my five year old daughter loves to listen to Ric and the Cars on iTunes with my Mac blasting the walls apart. Yes, me and the boys saw them at the "Doctor Pepper" concerts in Central Park and then later at Madison Square Garden back in the old days. And to my amazement I met Ric at the Home Depot on 23rd street in NYC last year. He was standing right in front of me buying light bulbs and hardware.
I guess was about twelve or thirteen years old when I landed my first job in the late sixties. My pal “Pudgy”, aka Brian Jacobowitz was working at Louie’s Candy Store at the corner of McDonald Avenue and Albemarle Road, just across the street from PS 230, and right next to the subway stairs at the north end of the Church Avenue F-Train Station. (It was just about 1967-68 when the F Train replaced the D on those tracks)
Pudgy had been working at Louie's for a while and had become expert at making egg-creams, chocolate sodas and all the important customer favorites.
Now I was hoping to get my foot in the door, and with Pudgy’s help I eventually did. The store needed someone to help put together all the various sections of the Sunday NY Daily News on Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings, to have them ready to be sold to the Sunday customers.
I'd go over at night or really early in the morning and Pudgy and I would grab the bundled papers off the delivery truck. We'd haul 'em over from the curb to the store and open up the padlocks and steel, accordion style gates, on one side and pile the wire bound stacks of papers just behind the gates. We’d lock 'em up for the night, to be worked on once the store opened up in the morning. This was my niche for a while and eventually (within a month or so) I was hired to work some regular hours after school and on weekends.
Louie’s Candy Store was literally a “Mom & Pop” operation. Louie usually wore an apron and a cabbie -style, herringbone, snap cap, also known as a hooligan cap, when he was working in the store. His wife also worked there on a regular basis. The place was a classic Brooklyn Candy Store. It had those tannish, maybe 1-inch octagonal tiles that made up the flooring, the classic soda-fountain amenities behind the counter, about a dozen swiveling, padded stools and newspaper and magazine racks like you’d see in a 1940’s James Cagney gangster flick. Pretzel sticks in a see-through, plastic canister and chocolate covered jelly-rings in a flip-top box with a cellophane "window" in the top of the box...all out on the serving counter.
Being located right above the F-train meant that there was a regular flow of customers. You could “feel” the trains coming in and leaving Church Avenue Station right through the floor of the store. After the rumble, a few minutes would go by and in would come customers fresh off the train.
If it was morning, you’d say, “Have a great day at work or don’t work too hard or see ‘ya later…” and if it was late afternoon or early evening, you’d say, “How was work today or have a nice evening or see you in the morning.” It was like clockwork. You’d get to know who was coming in and when, and you’d even figure out after a while what each customer was going to buy. “Pack of Camels, Pall Malls and a News or a Post.” “Cherry Coke or Egg Cream or Lime Ricky…” “Bialy or Bagel or Buttered Roll…”
Sometimes folks on the way to the station in the morning would glance south up McDonald Avenue, toward Ditmas Avenue, where the Manhattan bound F-Train left the elevated tracks and burrowed down under Avenue C, heading for the Church Avenue Station. If that happened, the alarm would go out, "The trains coming! " someone would scream. Louie's would empty out in a flash and some folks who were headed in for a paper or a roll would do an about face and run for the steps leading down to the platform. Pretty funny when that happened!
Picture all those people running down the steps, like some sort of football team at training camp; quick, little short steps, newspapers folded under one arm like footballs being carried by some pro-bowl half back for the NY Football Giants.
Yeah, Ron Johnson, number 30 could have handled those steps just fine! (With a little practice of course) You see, the guys and gals on the "F-train team" practiced all year long, day in and day out and just like football practice; they did it in all kinds of weather too.
My dad Anthony was one of those quick footed too, a subway-step running back. He was an All- Pro. Pop could not only do the quick step down the stairs with a newspaper under one arm, but he could even reach in his pocket for a token at the same time with his other hand! That meant there was no holding onto the handrails! That's a double move and All-star material any day of the week!
Louie’s was a regular stop for dad and dad would always kid with me when he came in after work, home from a day working the printing presses at Van Reese Press on West 26th Street in Manhattan and a 20 cents ride on the F train.
My dad would almost always ask Louie if I was doing a good job. Louie and his wife spoke with thick, middle-European accents and sometimes I found it hard to understand them. Sometimes they even spoke this unfamiliar language to each other or even to the odd customer on occasion. I noted that the only time they didn't speak English was when they were pissed about something. I guess they didn't want us to know what they were upset about.
I found out later that they were speaking Yiddish. I had no clue! Louie would answer my dad and say something like, “He’s a good boy, your son and he works very hard…” Sometimes Louie would even refuse to take my dad’s money. When dad left the store, Louie would say something nice about him, about how hard he worked and reminded me to be a good son and respectful of my parents.
Ok, confession time. Before I started working at Louie's, every once in a while after an Albemarle Road stickball game, I'd go in there and lift (yeah, steal) an ice pop out of the freezer. I only did it a few times and I don't know why I did it, but I did. Maybe it was the rush or maybe I just really wanted an ice pop and I didn't have enough money to pay for it. I always felt bad about doing it those few times I did. Anyway, that's what Confession was for and in those days, being a good Catholic School boy, I went regularly.
Once I started working there, I never took anything again. I never had to since Louie would always say,
"Charlie, why don't you make yourself a nice sandwich or something? Go ahead, take...have something to eat! A nice cream soda, maybe?"
It was always a nice something or other. I figured it was just a language thing. Of course, I would only consider a nice sandwich as opposed to a crappy sandwich. I always felt the use of "nice" was a bit redundant.
One afternoon, Louie rolled up his sleeves to wash some plates. I noticed that he had some sort of a tattoo on his arm, down near his wrist. I wasn't sure what it was so I waited a couple of days to ask him, the next time it was exposed.
"Louie, what happened to your arm?" I asked timidly.
Louie looked up at me and kept working. He never answered me. A couple of days later, when the store was quiet and we were alone, he rolled up his sleeve again and called me over. He explained to me that it was some kind of a serial number and that he had survived a Nazi concentration camp. I knew about World War II and about Jews being killed, but to me it was just like the War of 1812 or something else I had read in a history book or had heard on TV in passing. I didn't really have any insight about that kind of thing at that point in my life.
I will never forget that little man and the education I got that day and during the time I worked there. From what I learned about the Holocaust over the years and the nearly unbelievable inhumanity of it all, Louie's explanation of his very personal, family ordeal was kind for my sake. I distinctly recall the quietness in his voice and the tears in his eyes.
He explained to me how coming to America was so important to him. How we lived in the greatest country in the world and that no person should ever take freedom for granted. That it is one of the few things worth dying for and that many, many people had done just that.
I've never forgotten Louie's face, the sound of his accented voice and most of all; I have always remembered his words, his work ethic and his kindness.
PS: Before I left working at the store, I "found" about $2.50 on the floor when I was cleaning up. It's about what the stolen ice-pops were worth in those days. I put the cash in the register and thought many years later, that working at Louie's was probably one of the most inexpensive and thorough educations I ever got.
"KARMABrooklyn is a group of residents and small business owners who are addressing issues that affect commerce in Kensington. The organization began in March 2009. Its goal is to bring Kensington's small business owners and residents together in order to have an impact on issues affecting our business and shopping area, specifically Church Avenue from Ocean Parkway to 36th Street, and what we as a community can do to attract more customers to the existing businesses on Church Avenue and make Church Avenue a better place to shop".
Ok everyone, now add it in your favorites on your web browser!
“The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Al-Khidr and Alexander watch the Water of Life revive a salted fish. Florida is often said to be its location, and stories of the fountain are some of the most persistent associated with the state. A long-standing story is that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, Puerto Rico's first Governor, was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to present Florida, which he thought to be an island. He explored Florida in 1513. But the story did not start with him, nor was it unique to the New World. Herodotus mentions a fountain containing a very special kind of water located in the land of the Ethiopians. He attributes the exceptional longevity of the Ethiopians to this water. Tales of healing waters date to at least the time of the Alexander Romance, and were popular right up to the European Age of Exploration. versions of the Alexander Romance, where Alexander and his servant cross the Land of Darkness to find the restorative spring. The servant in that story is in turn derived from Middle Eastern legends of Al-Khidr, a sage who appears also in the Qur'an. Arabic and Aljamiado versions of the Alexander Romance were very popular in Spain during and after the period of Moorish rule, and would have been known to the explorers who journeyed to America”
Ok, well my Fountain of Youth is made of extremely flammable nylon, and it comes in different colors and sizes. Sometimes they have black marks on them and strange logos from other cities and countries.
And if you don’t wash them quick enough they tend to smell like cheese and can probably drive a pig away back into a mound of mud. Sometimes they are thrown into my garage all wet and sweaty, only to dry like the chorizo’s my grandparents used to make, hanging on a thin white string with a clothespin and smelling like garlic.
Yes, my “Fountain of Youth” always makes me feel young again when I pull it over my head. The thin gray hair on my head suddenly turns the thickest darkest brown, muscles reappear, and my stomach turns flat along with the bathroom scale reading 175 pounds.
Then when I put on my skates and hockey gloves, and snap the tape puck into my old forty-year-old hockey net, I know, “The Fountain” has worked. Yes, I am “young again”
This past week at lunchtime I have been taking the express train down to West 4th Street and skating at a local playground for an hour or so. Shooting an old Scotch 88 puck against the schoolyard wall, learning to take a decent slap shot, and just trying to sweat a little.
It has been the best use of my lunch hour ever in the past 25 years I have been at my job. And I’m only sorry that I just started doing it now instead of a long time ago.
And when I get back to my office at Rockefeller Center I make sure to double bag my hockey jersey, sticking it in my drawer way in the back. Hoping that no one smells the "cheesy" thing, and knowing once again that "Ponce de Nylon" has worked it's incredible magic again.
Ron Lopez Mopar195@yahoo.com PS- Buy the way, my cousin Pete Liria knows "Ponce de Nylon" too.
This Saturday July 25th will be our East Fourth Street block party. There will be no parking this Saturday from 8am thru 9pm on East Fourth between Beverly and Avenue C. Please make sure to move your car to another block or the police will be giving out tickets. It should be a blast as usual with front stoop parties, music, and fire hydrant sprinklers.
I have been to Connie's Cafe twice already since it opened. And for all the folks who grew up here, it's where Royal Sporting goods used to be on the corner of East 5th and Church back in the 70's. A real nice "Old School" diner run by a hell of a hard worker being Connie. In fact Connie is a Brooklyn gal herself who grew up right here in Kensington. Yeah, Connie remembers the Beverly, the Liberty diner and the Buzzarama. Only places a native would know with real Brooklyn blood running in their veins.
So let's help support a new business here in Kensington and grab some food over at Connie's. Because both the food and the price are right.
I always remember my mother telling me about how the smell of blackberries reminded her of her childhood growing up in Mahony City, Pennsylvania. Picking blackberries with her sister Beatrice in the fields high above the coalmines where her father worked. Then waiting for him at the end of the day with a bucket of berries for him to eat, after hours deep inside dusty, dirty caverns of darkness, his reward awaited him.
With a big smile on his face he would always kiss them both too, leaving a “black” lipstick mark on each one of their faces that they never wanted to wash off.
Oh, yes mom, the smell of blackberries, I know it well also.
You see for me the smell of blackberries brings me back to my childhood as well. Picking buckets of blackberries with my grandfather Paco and my grandmother Isabel when I was seven or eight years old. Probably in the same August sun as my mom, except we were a few hundred miles away from the coalmines of Pennsylvania in the Catskill Mountains.
Oh, yes smells, they are fascinating aren’t they?
Now for a lot of my hockey buddies from Avenue F, the smell of horseradish will always bring back memories of skating and shooting a roll of electrical tape when we were teenagers. Hours and hours of sweating, laughing, and making friendships that would last a lifetime. All with the pungent smell of horseradish snaking it's way up your nasal passages and down your throat.
You see the rink down at Avenue F was right behind the old “Golds” horseradish factory, and especially during the week after school the smell was at it’s strongest. Sometimes just going right through your nose and directly into your brain. Kind of like when you put too much spice on something and your head starts trembling.
Oh, yes the smell of horseradish, we all know it well. And maybe when we get together in October for some old timers games, I may just put an open bottle of it in my hockey pants for old times sake.
It must have been about 1965-67. I wish I could remember exactly when it was, but it had to be around those years. I was still going to school at I.H.M. and probably in the 4th or 5th grade at best. Only about half way through my 8 years at that place. Still in the "old" IHM.
The kids at IHM had to go to PS 10 for a couple of years, while the new school was being built. Those of us that got bused "up the hill" to PS 10 and that had attended the old IHM, PS 10 and then the new IHM, referred to Immaculate Heart that way more than others, since we experienced all three situations during our 8 year, Catholic Grammar School education.
Our family lived on East 2nd Street, between Albermarle Road and Caton Avenue. We were just a half block away (south) from IHM. Other kids who walked to school, from points further south, had to pass right in front of our house to get to school, so we saw a lot of IHM'ers on school mornings.
One of the kids who passed our house regularly came from East 2nd Street too, but he lived a bloc k further up, between Albermarle and Church Avenue and on the same side of the street as us. His name was Kevin McQuade and he was a year or two older than me. I remember that the Boyles, Chris Abuso and Mikey Pierce lived on that block too and Mike Scotto lived across the street from those guys. There were a couple of other IHM families on that block as well, but I can't recall their names.
Kevin was one of those guys who had a reputation in the neighborhood. He was good looking, with blonde hair and a respected guy with his fists and a real street jock. Great stickball player. I recall sitting on the curb on Albermarle Road, between East 2nd and East 3rd Street watching Kevin and the guys a few years older than me play stickball, just before I was old enough to play out in the street on my own. Kevin had a reputation as being a tough guy who stuck up for the little guy and who would face down the bullies that came along every now and then. I think he was an Altar Boy as well.
I remember seeing Kevin pass our house in the mornings heading to school. He was one of those guys who would wave to and say good morning to and if he acknowledged me with a wave or a nod, well, that sort of made me feel pretty cool. I really looked up to Kevin and wanted that reassurance from him somehow, that I was at least a worthy enough kid to get recognized by him.
We were wakened one summer (I think) night to that awful sound of fire truck and police car sirens. Sometimes those sounds were distant ones and you'd wake up in the morning with only a vague recollection of having heard anything at all. Other times and this was one of them, you'd be wakened and scared to death. When our family all woke up and smelled smoke coming from someplace, we went outside to the front of our house on East 2nd Street.
Many of our neighbors had done the same. My grandfather and grandmother came out from the house they lived in at 208, next to ours. You could see heads out of windows and people out on the street in all directions, but everyone, including the folks in 199, the apartment buildings across the street, had one thing in common.
Everyone was looking up towards Church Avenue, across Albermarle Road from our block. There was a mass of flashing lights and uniformed personnel running around in the distance, just a block away from where we stood. Worse than that, you could see large orange-yellow a nd red flames, lapping out of a building on the same side of the block and clouds of smoke billowing up through the beams of street lights. I could hear people crying and praying aloud and saying, "Oh my God, Oh my God." I can recall my Italian grandmother making the sign of the cross and my mom and dad putting their arms around my brothers and me.
I think my dad or my grandfather or both, walked up to see what had happened, but I didn't learn the details until the next day.
A few people had been killed by that fire on East 2nd Street in those early morning hours. I don't remember how many. Two, maybe three I think. The one thing I do remember is that Kevin McQuade was one of them.
There were several buildings about mid-block that were all the same. Three or four family homes and there were fire escapes on the front of those buildings, with small lawns surrounded by bushes out in front.
Apparently Kevin had gotten out ok, but he went back in to try and help the others that were trapped. He came out with a little kid named Bruce, I think. Bruce had been badly burned, but Kevin had saved his life. I believe that after the Bruce rescue, Kevin went back in to that raging inferno again, to try and save others in trouble, but this time he didn't come back out and he and a couple of other souls were lost forever from this world.
I've wanted to tell this story for years and I hope there are a few folks out there who remember some more of the details about Kevin's short life and his tragic death.
The building sat there, boarded up and smelling like fire and ash and death, for days or weeks or even months maybe. I don't remember. I do remember that whenever I walked up that block, I crossed the street for yea rs, so I'd be as far away from that building as possible. It gave me the creeps and at the same time, I always felt like I was gonna cry, not from fear, but from the downright sadness of knowing what happened there and the mental picture I'd conjured up of a young, smoke-blackened, courageous Kevin McQuade stepping back through the smoke and into eternity.
Kev was just a kid, but he was a real hero. In a matter of a few tragic moments this young kid from East 2nd Street became a man, a hero and then an angel.
I’m glad that I've been able to tell his story someplace, as best as I can. It's a sad thing somehow, when our heroes fade into history and their lives and valor slip through the cracks of time. Kevin McQuade deserves better. God bless you Kev.
I just snapped this screenshot from my webcam this evening. This is the view from the top floor of our house upstate. Please check out Catskill Escape if you are interested in any rental days we have available in August.
Well, I think it's pretty darn amazing that we were able to hold out without an air conditioner until July 17. That means that Con Edison will only own half of my soul for the month of July, rather than the whole thing.
And if you're looking for real cold in the summer, the other night at our house in the Catskills it went down to 45 degrees at night time. Now thats what I call cold!
It was a typical, quiet, summer night in the neighborhood, circa 1972. It was getting around the time to go meet "Red" (Greg Lombardi) up at the East 2nd Street & Church Avenue Carvel ice cream store, right across the street from Barton's Candy & Card store. It was almost quitting time for Red and Steven Marshack. It was about the time when Red and Steve would be doing their darndest to scrub down the countertops, mop the floors and hand wipe all the glass display counters.
They'd try to get it all done as fast as possible, so we could get the heck out of there and go hangout with the rest of the boys on Avenue C. If they could clean up fast enough, we'd be able to stop in to Scarola's and get some cold antipasto (since their Italian kitchen was closing up too, at that time of night) or maybe to the Liberty Diner for Burger Deluxes and Fries with brown gravy, before heading to the "corner" (Avenue C & McDonald).
Usually, Josh (Seff) and I would go meet Red around closing time to get him and the rest of the Carvel crew to hurry up and close the place for the night. Sometimes Ronnie Spiegel, Joey Mattera and Sal Congemi would come too.
"Hey Red! You missed a spot!"
"Steve! You look like a fuck'in pussy with that mop in your hands!"
You know, just a little chop/ball busting between friends!
Well, we would heckle the shit out of these guys, while they were busting their balls to get the place ready for closing. They had to clean all the soft ice-cream machines every night before they locked up. It took about an hour or so to do just that. Josh and I would lean on the counter like a couple of pigeons on a ledge, our heads darting back and forth spewing wise cracks at the expense of our "working" buddies behind the counter and laughing our asses off at each other's jokes.
Every now and then, some shmuck, a last minute customer would come in because the front door wasn't locked and the "closed sign" wasn't hung up yet or the poor bastard outside would just tap on the big glass windows and beg for the guys to let them in, so they could satisfy a craving for a vanilla cone.
This kind of interruption would just serve to keep us all there a little longer then we wanted. I have to say that Red and Steve were pretty good at being cold-hearted bastards and didn't mind waving away the last minute, desperate customers (I'm glad I didn't own that place)! It was like they were the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her pals got to the Emerald City. "Go away! We're closed! Come back tomorrow!" "Bring me the broom stick...” you know how it goes.
This was just the scene one night, except I was without Josh, my usual partner. It was a night that I'll never forget.... nor will Red and Steve!
I took up my usual post, leaning on the front counter and in comes one of those last minute customers...or so I thought. A real dickey looking guy with a couple of fat band-aids pasted across his nose. Red told me later that his first impression of this guy was that he felt bad for the dude and thought that maybe the guy had gotten hurt in some kind of unlucky accident or something. Typical Red. Always feeling sorry for some shitty bastard. What the heck. Red still is a helluva nice guy.
This guy plants himself to my right and he leans on the counter with his arms folded, both elbows up on the counter. He asks Red for a vanilla shake and Red apologetically explains that they only have hard ice cream left and asks him if the hard stuff would be ok for his milk shake. (Since the boys had finished their duty and cleaned the soft ice cream machines already)
The band-aid guy says, "Yeah, ok." Red bends over with the scoop to fetch the Vanilla. As he does so, the guy adds, "And give me all the money in the cash register or your friend here gets it!"
I'm thinking to myself, "What the fuck is this a-hole talking about?" So I start to turn towards the guy and he says, "Don't move!" I glance down under my right arm and I was startled to see that he's holding a gun, a black revolver, under his left armpit and it's pointed right up at my head!
Red opens the register and thought about pressing the silent alarm, installed just a week earlier, but once the cash draw opened it was near impossible to reach the button. Red took out a small, white, Carvel bag and put the money into the bag and onto the counter. It all took about 60 seconds by Red's recollection, but we agreed, it felt like an eternity! I'm glad Red didn't try to hit that silent alarm. I didn't know the alarm was there, but I recall saying something like, "Guys, don't fuck around, just give the guy his money!"
Steve comes walking out from the back of the store, where he was making those freak'in Carvel ice cream cakes and the band-aid guy says to him and Red, "And don't forget the change fund either!" Steve did as he was told and handed it over to him. Then the bandit told me to get on the other side of the counter with Red and Steve. He told us to turn around and walk to the back of the store and stay there for at least 5 minutes. He said that he'd be watching us and that he'd shoot us, if we didn't follow his instructions!
That short walk to the back of the Carvel store was scary as hell. All kinds of stuff frantically runs through your head during a time like that. Red said that he was praying over and over in his head..."Please don't shoot us, please don't shoot us." All those action movies were flashing through my head during the whole ordeal...you know, where the hero kicks the gun out of the bad guys hand or throws some incredible kung-fu kick, decks the guy and his gun flies into the air, only to land in the good guy's (my) hand. I had to keep suppressing that nonsense, since I knew that our best chance at getting out of there in one piece, was to just do what the bad guy says and get it over with.
On the other hand, in those few seconds, I was also thinking, that making a move before he starts shooting might be the only chance we had. Luckily, in those days, there wasn't a lot of the "steal and kill in cold-blood stuff" that has become more prevalent since then, so I think the basic credo was to just do what the bad guy says and you get to go home standing up. So we did. After all, what was I going to throw at him? Chocolate syrup? Sprinkles? Sear his face with hot fudge maybe? Stab him in the eye with a sugar cone? Na. No heroics.
I didn't know it then, but there was another silent alarm in route to the back of the store, under the "scoop sink" and Steve pushed it as we passed by. When we got to the back of the store and no bullets had come our way, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief and Steve told us he had pushed the alarm. We waited a few minutes, came out with our heads down and Steve pushed the alarm again and we locked the front door.
The cops got there in about 10 minutes, along with storeowner, Frank Chiarello.
Once NYPD was in the store, you could hear the chatter over their police radios, "...that the alarm at Carvel had been tripped, but it was probably by accident...!" Yeah right! Accident my ass!
It was right about this time that Red realized he had pissed his pants! Could you blame him? A few more cops arrived and one of them asked us if the perp had big band-aids on his nose. In harmony we all said, "YEAH, how did you know?" The cops told us that a guy fitting the same description had robbed the Baskin-Robbins a week earlier and that this guy had been robbing ice cream stores regularly. Thus the label, "The Band-Aid Bandit or The Ice Cream Bandit."
Red reminds me that we all went down to the 70th Pct. to look at MUG shots and we all independently picked the band-aid man's picture out. This guy (maybe) was arrested about a year later, but got off because he had a twin brother and the cops couldn't prove which one of these brothers had committed all the robberies!
Neither Red nor I recall if we ever got anything at all to eat that night, but we'll never forget the rest of that night at the Church Avenue Carvel Store!
Charlie Gili & Greg (Red) Lombardi (Technical Advisor) Written Friday, July 10, 2009
I had to laugh when I read Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” online article on the web. I mean these chumps never even mentioned Kensington, or even Brooklyn. And to make it even funnier all the faces the photo’s were “white”. No, not one Bangladishi, African American or Puerto Rican in the bunch.
Oh and forget a “Hispanic-Polish American” like me, I’d just be too scary for any photo.
So "UP YOURS" Money Magazine, and I'm never moving to any of those boring small towns that you say are better than my beloved Brooklyn.
Jerry “Fish” was your basic “rink rat” down at the Avenue F hockey court in the 1970’s. I'm not sure how he got the name “Fish”, and we never asked him. Because no one really wanted to know anyway, and sometimes certain nicknames are better left alone.
At 14 years old Jerry stood about 5 foot 5 and was kind of skinny. He had straight dirty blonde shoulder length hair and blue eyes. Jerry usually wore an orange and white “Flyers” jersey that always looked quite dirty when he skated with us.
Now we were all at least 18 or 19 years old and much bigger than Jerry. But because this kid was so good, we would always let him join in our choose-up games during the week after school. He was just a real sweet kid that looked up to us older guys, and we in turn always made sure to keep an eye out for him on and off the court.
One day Jerry was real excited because he just got paid from his part time job at a supermarket on 18th avenue. He said he had about 20 bucks in his hockey pants and was looking forward to spending it on something he always wanted.
“Hey Ronnie, would you mind giving me a ride over to “Scotto’s” on 13th Avenue after the game?”
“Sure kid, what are you going to buy?”
“You know, I always had this dream about what I was going to do with my first paycheck and today it’s coming true”
I had no idea what Jerry was going to do, but gladly told him I’d give him a lift to Scotto’s on 13th Avenue.
So I took off all my goalie equipment and threw it in the trunk of my 73 Buick. "Fish” just kept his equipment on, including his skates and sat in the front seat of my car.
When we got to Scotto’s I was able to get a spot right in front.
“Hey Ronnie, can I get you something?”
“No thanks Jerry, I’ll just wait here”.
Jerry just opened the passenger’s side door and glided on his skates to the entrance of the bakery and opened up the door. About five minutes later Jerry appeared with a big white cake box tied with that red and white string. I guess he bought it for his mom. But then, without warning Jerry sat on the sidewalk in front of the bakery window. He put the box to his mouth and started breaking the string with his teeth. He then opened it up and stuck his hand inside. Before you knew it he had whipped cream and strawberries all over his face and hands.
Yeah, that was Jerry’s dream, to buy a strawberry shortcake and just eat it all by himself, even if he didn’t have a fork and knife.
After the league shut down in the mid 80's, I kind of lost track of “Jerry Fish”. From what I heard he wasn’t keeping the best of company down on Ditmas Avenue.
And I guess the off-duty cop that shot Jerry to death never saw the same kid I did eating that cake with his hands in front of Scotto’s bakery.
No, he just saw some teenage trouble maker trying to steal his car early one Saturday morning in the late 80’s. No one ever really knew if Jerry had a gun that day, although that was the cop’s version.
And from what I heard, he died right in the car.
An innocence lost is such a terrible waste, I sometimes look at my own son and worry about how fast his path could change. As a parent you just try to do your best and hope they keep with a good crowd. You try to give them their freedom and let them dream for themselves. Even if that dream is simply about eating a strawberry shortcake in front of Scotto’s with their first paycheck.
I remember exactly where I was that day when the lights went out in Brooklyn. I was on the down escalator at the "EJ Korvettes" on Bay Parkway, down by the water. It's where the Toys R Us is now. Bobby Brennan, Pete Liria and I just stepped on the moving steel stairs. We were about halfway down and all of a sudden “stop”, we all almost fell down forward too. All the lights in the store went out, while the battery powered emergency lights suddenly kicked on.
Not knowing any better, everyone in the store just left and walked to the parking lot to find their cars. And that’s when we knew something was really wrong, because it wasn’t just Korvettes that was dark. No, it was the rest of Brooklyn including Coney Island. I clearly remember looking over towards the Parachute Jump and just seeing dark silhouettes of the entire place. Let me tell you, that was something I will never forget.
So we all piled into Bobby’s Plymouth and slowly made our way up Bay Parkway towards Kensington. All the traffic lights were out, so it took us well over an hour to get home. Just a slow crawl through every intersection, hoping no one would broadside you.
Now the block was quite quiet when we got home. A lot of folks with flashlights walking up and down East 4th street that night. I remember we all just sat on my porch and listened to my mom’s transistor radio while shining flashlights up towards the apartment house across the street. We were probably out that night till early in the morning, listening for any informaton on when the power would be back on.
No, as far as I remember everything in Brooklyn was quite calm the first night. It wasn’t until the second night of the blackout that we heard about the cars pulling down storefront gates with long steel chains along Flatbush Avenue. It was just a lot of fire trucks and police cars racing down Church towards Flatbush that night, along with the smell of smoke in the air from far away fires.
And Kensington was quite peaceful during the whole blackout, and the East 4th street Block Association kicked into full gear. Heck, I was even one of the “security guards” along with the rest of the boys who patrolled the block late at night with a “Louisville Slugger”. Just to make sure whatever was going on down by Flatbush was not coming here.
And nothing ever happened, no the closest we got to a riot was hearing the sirens of the fire trucks and police cars going East on Church Avenue. No, nothing more.
And Kensington along with Windsor Terrace stood tall during those three days in July back in 1977.
And we just read about the riots in the Daily News.
And Hell, I never did get to buy That “Boston” 8-track that night.
Because the cash registers didn’t work without electric.
Mike The Mailman: Inspired by Morris The Ice Cream Guy
I remember Morris and his Camels and his hat, just like it was yesterday! I also remember the sound of those bells and my mom and dad “running for cover,” to avoid the advancing army of kids, both my brothers and me and whatever buddies where tagging along with us.
Stickball game was put on hold, all of us with our hands out, open-palmed, begging for that spare change that we would eagerly hand over to Morris and if we were really lucky, Morris would let you sit in that front seat and ring the bells yourself!
Wow! Where has the time gone?
I guess the Morris story jogged my memory and combined with a ride by the old neighborhood today and the sight of a green mailbox that is still in the same place it was 45 years ago, well, it brought me to another recollection of our Mailman, Mike…or as we called him back then; Mike the Mailman.
I guess today we’d have to call him "Mike the Mail Carrier"!
Now the green mailbox wasn’t really a mailbox at all, it was/is really one of those green boxes that are here and there. Part of some extensive postal system that most of us not involved in the mail delivery service are oblivious to, this box is used as some type of a transfer station for those mail carriers in the know and not by us civilians. The big difference between it and a functional mailbox is that it doesn’t have a slot. It just has a door and it’s a bit bigger than the boxes where we mail letters.
This particular green box stands on the corner of East 2nd Street and Caton Avenue, diagonally across the street from IHM (the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, my Alma Mater. And down the block, about half a block from where I grew up at 204 East 2nd.
So Mike the Mailman (I'll stick with the old vernacular) was our mail guy. What was it about Mike that made him do what he did? I'll have to just chalk up to him being a darn nice guy, who liked kids in the healthy sense of liking kids. My guess is that Mike was just a "big" kid himself.
We'd spot Mike making his way up one side of the street and then crossing over and working his way back down the block. Just to be a bit more specific; I had this debate a few times over the years, but to me "up the block" meant moving in the direction of the addresses getting higher and "down the block" meant the opposite. Some who disagree with me say that up and down the block has to do with which way the car traffic moves.
What do you think?
Now, before you answer, let me blow that car traffic argument right out of the water. What if you lived on a two-way street? The traffic flow goes both ways and your left to depend on the address numbers. So here! I guess we could all agree on the definition of "around the block.”
Anyhow, back to Mike the Mailman.
So Mike would eventually make his way down the block, moving from Albemarle Road towards Caton Avenue. That's when our kid radar would begin to watch his moves very closely. Once he finished the last house on our side of the block (200 E 2nd), he'd make a bee line for the green mailbox on the corner, and like his pied-piper followers, every kid under the age of 10, would swarm after him.
You see, at some point Mike had made up this game with all of the kids and we all wanted to play. Once we all arrived at the green box, he'd pick a number from one to ten or more, depending on how many kids there were around on a given day. We'd all get to try to guess the number. Whoever got the number or was closest without going over his number, won the game! big deal right? You bet it was a big deal.
You see whoever won Mike's game got the grand prize. You guessed it! The winner got to get locked up in that green box on the corner and all he other kids would pound away on the great, green, metal thing!
You had to be inside that box to appreciate that pure kid glee of sitting in that small dark space, and knowing that all your buddies were outside doing their best to provide enough noise and echoes to drive the "lucky person inside to beg for Mike to open the door.
Of course, in all the episodes of Mike's game, I can’t recall one single time that any of the winners begged for Mike to let 'em out! Eventually, probably a few minutes or so in the box, you'd get let out and Mike would have to get back to his civil service responsibilities or knock off for the day or do whatever he did after the green box game on East 2nd Street was concluded.
We never knew or cared where Mike was headed, as long as we knew he'd be back on the following day to do it all over again. Sunday's were always a bummer (no mail delivery, no Mike) and when we'd hear that Mike was on vacation, well, that was a major disappointment too.
Can you imagine some modern day Mail "Carrier" doing that today? I don't think so! I wonder how many calls would go in to 311? Or even 911? Mike the Mailman. What a wonderful guy!
I hope that Mike is still around and gets to read this. I wonder what he'd think if he knew that the kid from E 2nd St, that always guessed 7, was writing about "his" game from 40 something years ago!
Charlie Gili (PS: I always guessed #7... because that was Mickey Mantle's number of course!)