Monday, August 31, 2009

8/29/09 A Hard-to-Get-My-Head-Around Kind of A Day (by Charlie Gili)

Ever been confused? Today was one of those days for me. I got up early and headed out of Brooklyn and out east to Long Island.

I was in route to meet up with a very special group of folks, to take care of something that I needed to be part of. A young Marine had been Killed in Action last week in Afghanistan and he was brought home to his family by his fellow Marines. I couldn't make the services, but I knew through the great folks from The Patriot Guard Riders, that Lance Corporal Damas would be taken to Kennedy Airport for his final flight to North Carolina for burial.

I finally caught up with the Damas escort at the funeral home. I said hello to some of the other volunteers and got some direction and absorbed the protocol for the last leg of the escort. The casket had to be made ready for air travel and this was the purpose of the stop at the funeral parlor.

Six Marines in their best dress uniforms loaded the casket carrying Lance Corporal Damas into the hearse. The police escort pulled out of the driveway to block traffic and those of us making up the Patriot Guard escort got underway and headed to Kennedy. Most of the traffic along the Belt Parkway yielded when they noticed that this was a service member escort and those that didn’t were encouraged to do so by those of us providing the escort.

We were taken through the back roads of the airport and right up to a fence that marked the tarmac. The civilians in the escort were stopped short of the tarmac, so we lined up just outside the fence, while the uniformed personnel proceeded ahead. Moments later, Port Authority Police Officers invited us through a building and onto the tarmac so that we could be part of the proceedings. This was a very nice gesture on their part and we formed ranks around the back of the hearse on one side and a group of Police Officers did the same on the other.

The six Marines went through their movements to remove the casket to a mechanized gurney. As the Marines slowly brought their right hands into the military salute position, the Police Captain ordered his Officers to do the same and we all followed suit.

We held the same salute until the casket was rolled to the waiting jet and loaded aboard. It was a very solemn few moments. I have attended several such services, but this was the first time I was involved in an airport departure. Once the formal recognition was concluded, we shook hands and were on our way back to resume our regular lives.

I had to go straight to work since there was a huge event being held in a Brooklyn Park and I was responsible for many of the logistics. Spike Lee was sponsoring a "Tribute to Michael Jackson" and when I arrived at the event site, the music and activities were already underway. The crowd estimate was 12 to 15,000. Everyone was having a great time and it was a nice event, with everyone well-behaved.

I don't know if I was just a bit tired or if I am just getting old, but I couldn't get the scene on the JFK tarmac out of my head. A local Marine had been killed, brought home and sent to his final resting place. Lance Corporal Damas is a true hero. Yet, at his final farewell on the grounds of a windswept local airport, there were about 40 of us who witnessed his passing and in the same day, just 35 minutes from the tarmac at Kennedy, there were more than 10,000 nice people celebrating the music of a pop icon.

I wondered how many people in the crowd were aware of why they could celebrate in such a wonderful way? If they realized how the death of Lance Corporal Damas and the hundreds of thousands of patriots who went before him was directly related to the freedoms they were enjoying on this day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I understand the dynamics of how these things work in our society, but even though I do, I just couldn't get my head around the backwardsness of my day. I don't think I ever will. Semper Fi Lance Corporal.

Charlie Gili

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kensington vs. Niagara Falls

This past week was our annual "Summer Vacation", and this time we decided to take a trip up North from the Catskills to Niagara Falls New York, for a few days.

Now, I have to tell you that I'm New York City born and bred, tall building jaded, Fifth Avenue un-impressed and so on and so forth.
I mean I was born here guys and have been making the daily trip to Manhattan since 1972 when I started High School. So what do you expect? This is my "small town" and I've been all over it for almost
52 years. No, I never moved here from anywhere else, because there is "no" anywhere else to me.

Oh, but Niagara Falls, let me tell you that's something to check out one day if New York City has jaded you. I mean not even opening up the "Johnny Pump" in front of Freddie's house on East Fourth made that much water. This thing was gushing like a son of a gun and even big old Ron Lopez felt as tiny as a bug while standing next to it.

Yes, Niagara Falls, write it down on your "Bucket List" and check it out someday. Because there's nothing like it here in New York City or even Kensington Brooklyn.

Ron Lopez

Website Counter

Free Counter

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ode to Freddie

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.

Ron Lopez

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.

Ron Lopez
Website Counter

Free Counter

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Riding the train with Donald

He was tall and thin and carried a black garbage bag onto
the subway car. His skin was dark and his face unshaven.

I remember looking at another homeless man that day on
the F. He walked on to the train at the 14th street station
by Union Square, and just stood there across from where
I was standing.

And people gave him his “room” too, because that’s
what you do when the homeless walk onto your train,
you just give them their space, and hope they don’t
bother you.

I just stared at him and looked at his eyes, because
the eyes never change, even when you’re homeless.

He looked back at me, his eyes were as dark as coal,
he said nothing.

I know he felt strange when I saw him too. So he just
walked away and sat down on a seat facing the opposite
direction so I couldn’t notice who he was.

The people sitting next to him all got up and found
other seats in the subway car.

I walked towards him though, and sat beside him.

“Hey Donald, remember me?
it’s Ronnie from Art & Design”

He turned his head towards me,
but didn’t look in my eyes this time.

“How you doin man?” is all he said

“I’m fine Don, I’m fine”

“Yeah, well, you know since High School
things have been a little rough for me”
“I’m ok, but things are just not that good”

I remember my first day of high school back in 1972,
Donald was one of the first people I sat with at
the lunch table in the back of the cafeteria.

Donald always wore these really cool tinted sunglasses and
had a small goatee. While most other kids weren’t even
shaving yet, including me, Don looked like he may have
been about 20 years old.

Along with Donald, I also sat with Ernest and Sandy.
Donald and Ernest were black, while Sandy was Jewish.
We were certainly a cross section of New York, but hey.
That’s what made the High School of Art and Design
so cool back in 1972.

Yeah, the High School of Art and Design. I never knew
some of my best friends were gay until my senior year.
And to tell you the truth it never really mattered either.
Because we were all such good friends, and all artists anyway.
All going to a school were nobody cared about “what” you
were. And no one felt they were better than anyone else.

We all just loved that school so much,
including my friend Donald.

“Hey man I’m getting off here”

I reached into by jacket and gave
Donald a twenty-dollar bill.

Donald just looked at me and said “thanks”.

That was about 25 years ago and
I haven’t seen Donald since.

So the next time you see someone riding
the F-train with a bundle of sorrow.
Think about my friend Donald, and never
ever feel that you’re better than anyone else.
Because someday that person just might be you.

Ron Lopez
Website Counter

Free Counter

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life Before Cable & Satellite TV (by Josh Seff)

One of my best childhood memories was watching my favorite shows and sports on a black and white TV. The TV screen was small and of course had a rabbit ear antenna sitting on top. Remember how you had to get the antenna in just the right position to get decent reception? Usually this involved a family member (that would be me) having to hold the antenna to get the best reception. If you didn’t get the antenna just right, you get the dreaded lost horizontal control where the picture would scroll around and around making your head spin.

The TV’s back then had tubes and took a while to “warm-up.” There was a TV repair store on Church Ave. and Dahill Rd. that had a “Tube Tester” to check if you had a bad tube and get a new one if it was burned out. Unlike the hundreds of channels we have now, back then we only had 7 channel choices-2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13.

Changing channels actually involved some physical effort-getting off the couch and turning the dial. Remote control? We didn’t need no stinkin’ remote control! I’ve always been a channel changer whether it’s a radio or a TV. I actually broke our TV channel changer dial. I would spin the TV dial like a Vegas roulette wheel! The only way to turn the dial after my rough treatment was to use a pair of pliers on the little metal stub that remained. I remember watching TV at Charlie Gili’s house and changing the channels. When Charlie’s father saw me spin the dial he called out, “Hey, that’s not some part from a submarine!”

We finally got a color TV in 1975 or ‘76 but the rabbit ears remained a necessity. Now, the problem was not the horizontal control but losing the color if the antenna was not positioned perfectly. Many people had roof antennas but we rented and landlords usually didn’t like you messing with their roofs or chimneys. Roof antennas were not always the solution to bad reception either. You had to make sure the antenna was pointed towards the World Trade Center where the TV stations broadcasted their signals. I discovered the perfect solution one day-an antenna that rotates sold at RadioShack! A small motor that you control from your living room turns the antenna until you get the best reception. With the help of Steven Marshak (spelling?) we installed my rotary antenna on the roof above the second floor balcony. Hey, we weren’t on the actual roof of the house so no need to inform the landlord! The other selling point of the rotary antenna was the possibility of picking up a TV signal from Philadelphia and watching hockey games. Unfortunately, I was never able to pick up a strong signal out of Philly. I might have been hallucinating, (it was the 70’s) but a couple of times I could make out the resemblance of a hockey game mixed in with mostly TV snow.

Remember, this is before cable came to Brooklyn and we could only watch Ranger away games on channel 9 (WOR) with Jim Gordon doing play by play and Bill (The Big Whistle) Chadwick commentating. The home games were shown on the MSG Cable Network only in selected Manhattan areas around the Garden. My aunt and uncle lived in co-op apartment near the Garden so if we couldn’t get tickets to a play-off game, I would ask them if we could watch on their cable TV. Eventually Charlie, Alfred Guerrero and I got Ranger season tickets up in the blue seats-section 440! I think it was only around $180 per season ticket or around $4.50 per game! The problem is there were three people for only two seats. Fortunately, Charlie created a spreadsheet (pre-computer) and a schedule that had the three of us going to an equal number of games. The other amazing thing was that Charlie set up the schedule so we would each see the same number of visiting teams. Of course, there were complaints occasionally if someone didn’t have tickets to a big rivalry game. We even found a way around this problem so all three of us could go to a game. We would get an old ticket stub and wrap a ten dollar bill around it and hand it to the ticket taker. We knew which ticket takers would accept the “bribe.” The three of us would actually sit in the two seats if we couldn’t find an empty seat. It’s ironic that today Alfred is a security guard at the Garden! Look for Al and his big mustache at ice-level. He opens the gate to the dressing room between periods.

Today you can watch any game and team with the NHL Center Ice package on cable or satellite TV. The games are now broadcasted in high definition which is great for hockey viewing. It would’ve been nice having all these viewing options and technology when we were growing up. However, we sure had some good times trying to watch as many games as possible.

Josh Seff

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Grandpa Carmelo; His Shovel & The American Dream in Kensington by Charlie Gili

Carmelo Gili circa 1920 (Far Right with shovel)

Waves of immigrants came to America and are still coming. The American dream in its conception and pursuit is almost unfathomable in its design and yet perfect in its simplicity. Live and let live. Worship or not as you wish. Put your faith in yourself and what you can do through hard work and fair play. Some folks still believe in such things and others might think they are owed something and that life is all about getting over. Well, this story is not about that group.

Carmelo Gili or Charlie as he would later be called, left his homeland on the tiny island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea in 1907at the age of 13. Imagine that? 13 years old. I certainly couldn't imagine my son or daughter or myself being on my own at that age. I guess back then it was a lot more common for young people, kids really, to venture out and try making it on their own. Just to make his situation a bit more challenging, Carmelo not only left Malta and his family, but he went to sea as they say, to sail the seven seas.

In those days ships didn't really sail much anymore as in sail boats or clipper ships. For the most part, ships were powered by steam. Steam ran the engines that turned the cork-screw propellers that drove those ships through the oceans of the world.

To describe making steam as hard work would be a bit of an understatement, especially by today's standards, but that's what 13 year-old Carmelo did. He stoked furnaces in the bellies of ships from Valetta to China and San Francisco, to South America, Australia, India, Casablanca and Madagascar, Jamaica, Liverpool, Cuba and probably 100s of ports all over the globe, in his seventeen years aboard ship.

Stoking a ships furnace in those days was dangerous, back breaking work. The "stokers", later called fire-man (a person who tends fires), would basically shovel coal into a furnace. The coal would burn and heat water that would create steam to power the engines. Simple right? Except that there was no OSHA on those ships, no unions, very little safety precautions for the laborers and little law as we know it. Basically, it was tough it out or simply, just get out.

Grandpa Carmelo entered New York Harbor to stay, in 1924 and he brought with him arms wrapped in anchor chain tattoos and a chest adorned with a tattooed, fully-rigged ship, broad shoulders, the money he'd saved from his years at sea and his shovel.

He met and married my Italian grandmother Eva Colombo an accomplished seamstress in 1927and they rented a walk-up apartment on Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy. Carmelo went to work for the Heide Candy Company (founded in 1869 by another immigrant from Germany.) Grandpa made use of his shovel again and his ship-board education of boiler systems was valuable experience, since boilers were also used in the candy making process.

Hard work and determination eventually earned Carmelo and Eva enough money to buy their own home on East 2nd Street, in Kensington. They had two children; my Aunt Angel and my dad, Anthony. Later on there were 8 grandchildren, with me arriving first and named after my grandfather. (If you ever meet a Charles or an Anthony Gili anywhere in the world...guaranteed, they are a relative of mine!)

Working for the Heide Candy Company had its rewards! Around Christmas time we'd all wait for "The Box" to show up in the mail at grandpa's house. We lived just across the alleyway from my grandparents, so we'd usually see it (the box) coming! You see, some of the employees who worked for the Heide Co. would get this big box around the holidays and it was loaded with all sorts of Heide candy products; Mexican Hats, Red Hot Dollars, Jujubes and my favorite; Jujyfruits! The extra neat thing was that the candy was packaged in the giant-sized boxes that you can get these days, but you couldn't back then. The only time I ever saw a giant box of these candies as a kid, was when they showed up in the special carton that was delivered to my grandfather.

When people find out that I have a Maltese heritage, they always think that Malta is somehow a part of Italy, but it's not. It is its own country, most recently gaining independence from England back in the 1970s. Its location in the middle of the Mediterranean has always made its possession a strategic holding in wars dating back before the Crusades and it is probably one of the most "conquered" pieces of real estate in world history. The language is very guttural sounding, much closer to Arabic than Italian.

Sundays were always a big deal. It was often a day to "have company." You don't hear that expression much anymore, but this was the common phrase back then. This basically meant that someone or many some ones (usually family) were coming to visit, to eat with us and usually they would bring some cake or pastries. We'd all go to church in the morning, but my grandmother would go to the earliest mass at IHM, ahead of the rest of us because she wanted to get back in her kitchen to start some monster cooking marathon for "the company" due to arrive later on.

Sometimes those family visits were just for fun and other times they were for some kind of project. If there was some big thing that needed doing, the Gili's didn't often, if ever, hire a contractor. Roof needed repairing, new sidewalk needed pouring, brick face needed rehabbing, no problem. Call out the family and they'd come with tools and material. Once the work was done, it was time to eat!

After dinner, Maltese men into one room to scream and yell in Maltese about the politics of the day, usually about independence from the English. Grandma and the women would be cleaning up and starting to reheat and push the leftovers at you or make coffee, so we could eat the company's cakes or pastries. (By the way, they called the coffee pot the percolator.)
Italian grandmothers are about as famous as Jewish grandmothers for making you eat until you're almost ill. After that they toss more plates of food at you and look at you like your crazy when you say you're full. I have a feeling that's true of all grandmothers regardless of their heritage!

Grandpa Carmelo loved America. He became a maniac NY Mets fan and the sight of a drooping chest pocket during baseball season was common on game days. That pocket held a small transistor radio and a single wire ear plug ran up to his ear.
You'd always know if the Mets were doing poorly. If you saw my grandfather rip that wire from his ear, take the radio out of his pocket and spin that little on-off dial to the off position, mumbling something under his breath that we weren't supposed to hear, you knew the Mets were not having a good day.

If I "caught" him doing that, I'd be ready to rib him about his Mets, since I was a Yankee fan. He'd cut me off and say, "The Yankees, they stink!" He'd wave his hand at the air and go back to griping about his team. Baseball got in his blood pretty good. Looking back, I think that baseball was one of the things that helped him assimilate in America.

Grandpa Carmelo lived in Kensington for about 40 years. He never left. The 13-year-old little boy from Malta did what he set out to do. To simply live a good life. Family was always the most important thing. He never owned a car and never made tons of money, but he had his home and his family. He never wanted anything for nothing and never expected anything for nothing. After all, HE was an American.

As my grandfather got into his later years, I would always expect to see him sitting in his chair at the window at the front of his house. When I left for school he'd wave goodbye and when I came home he'd wave to welcome me back.

I was a senior at FDR high school in 1974 and coming back home on a cold, wintery day. There was a few inches of snow on the ground. As I neared my grandfather's house at 208, I noticed his snow shovel inexplicably lying on the ground near his front stoop. This struck me as odd, since he was a stickler with taking care of his tools. I glanced up to check his usual window perch, but he wasn't there.

I picked up his shovel to let him know it was left out front and made my way around to the alleyway entrance that we used each day. I walked in to find out that grandpa Charlie was gone. His 80 year journey had ended with a heart attack earlier that afternoon. The shovel I picked up was the one he was using when he died. The shovel he was using in front of his own piece of the American Dream he found in Kensington.

The family used to scold grandpa about doing heavy work at his age, but another trait of the Maltese is that they "have heads like rocks" as my family would say. At 80, with a shovel in his hands, I don't think my grandpa would have wanted to leave this world any other way.

I still have one of his shovels in my garage that my dad had in his. Some people might find it an odd keepsake, but whenever I pick it up it reminds me of where I come from and of two of the wonderful men who taught me what it means to be an American in Kensington.

Charlie Gili

(Thanks again Charlie for another wonderful story)
Ron Lopez

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Catskill WebCam Today @ 12 noon

Last night it was in the upper 40's on the mountain.
Not long before the snow starts falling again!

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

News from the Block

• On a sad note…

Bob Brennan, the mayor of East Fourth Street, informed me that Andrew Eagan’s sister Teresa died last week. According to Bob it was the result of complications she had after knee surgery. Teresa Eagan was only 42 years old and leaves behind a husband and a young daughter. Our condolences to Andrew and his family.

• The Rev turned 80 years old last month and he’s still out there every day polishing his Caddie until the sun goes down.

“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t
eat any kind of animals or fish”

Yes, I give the “Rev” credit, he’s still out there every day and hasn’t seen a doctor since the day he was discharged from the service back in the 50’s.

All I can say is “Hallelujah”

• We had our East Fourth Street block party on Saturday July 25th. The street was closed and everyone had a blast. I was wondering about the possibility of having our next reunion on the same day as the block party. This way we can play hockey without stopping for cars every five seconds.

• Glenn Gruder will be happy to know that after 90 years I finally had my garage door fixed. Not replaced, no, just fixed. I also found the hatchet that I tried to hit him with too. It was sticking out a bag of Matzo meal I have been storing in the garage since 1980.

• The other day I was skating around in front of my house and shooting pucks into our old net. You know those plastic pucks really suck on the street; they bounce around and turn sideways all the time. So I took out a Scotch 88 and the thing slid like it was on ice.
I guess a simple roll of black tape still works after all these years, even on East Fourth Street.

• Judy Spinner's house is almost all fixed up after that terrible fire back in April. Another reason why it's important to have homeowner's insurance.

• I hope everyone is getting into shape because October 3rd will be here before you know it. And that’s the first date of many “Reunion” games down at Avenue F. I myself have been practicing by having the monkeys at Prospect Park zoo throw their feces at me. And although my goalie pads and gloves smell like hell, it’s really helped me improve my reflexes.

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Comment Moderation (Turned Off)

Ok, so I finally turned off (Comment Moderation) on my blog.
So now you guys can communicate with each other without
me opening up every email and clicking the "OK" button.
Just like a telephone or yelling at each other from across
the street like when we sat on our stoops.

So have fun and watch the cursing, ok?
Wow, have we entered 2009 or what!

Ron Lopez

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Play Date from Hell

The "Play Date from Hell" started like any other “play date” usually does. You’re in a park or playground with you son or daughter just pushing them on that black-seated swing. They’re laughing away with their little legs kicking back in forth having another wonderful day. And there’s that woman next to you again with that big straw hat. You have seen her about three times so far and yet have never spoke. You have your “nanny” radar on and so far so good.
Time to move on this, looks like the mom.

“Oh, so how old is your daughter?”

“Well, she just turned three on August 14.”

So far, so good, no corrections yet
about her not being the mother.

“Are you from New York?”

“Oh, me too”
“What’s her name?”

“Oh, she has such beautiful blonde hair”.

Now, for the big one as your leaving.

“Here, let me give you my number,
maybe the kids can get together one day.”

She smiles and gives you her number too.

"Mission accomplished" is all you say to yourself as
you push open the heavy metal gate of the playground.

And just like any other date, you still wonder if they’re
going to call. Everyone is just so polite nowadays, and you
wouldn’t expect them to crumple up your phone number
right in front of your face now would you?

And then one day the phone finally rings.

“Hi, this is “………” from the playground,
we met the other day.”

“Sure that sounds great”
“I’ll see you then.”

Oh, coffee or tea, what should I make?
Now, which toys have that lead based paint?
Better hide the “Little Princess” stuff.
I know he’s only “experimenting” but she doesn’t.

Ok, good, NPR as back-round noise.

The doorbell rings, and there she is.

“Hi, so nice to see you”
“Oh, she’s so beautiful.”

Now my wife is a stay at home mom and has always been a pretty good disciplinarian with our son. No beatings or anything like that, just right from wrong, stand in the corner, 1, 2, 3, so on and so on. And let me tell you, it all works. He’s eight years old now and hasn’t spit at his teacher since pre-school.

And then it started, just like that.

The big wooden spoon just struck the back of my sons little
three-year-old head. The blonde girl just laughed after she did it.

My wife just sat there thinking the lady in the big straw hat would
say something. Hoping in some way she would tell her daughter
not to do it again.

“Oh, is he having a bad day?”
said the lady in the straw hat.

Is this woman totally insane?

Your little blonde haired daughter just whacked my kid on the head
with a wooden spoon, he’s crying and you’re asking my wife if
“he’s having a bad day?”

My wife gently confiscated the wooden spoon from
the little blonde girl. She then started crying.

“Oh, Virginia, I think she wants the spoon back”
said the lady with the straw hat.

My wife gave the spoon back to the little blonde girl.

“Now no hitting,” said my wife.

“Oh, you don’t have to tell her that,
she knows not to hit.”

And it just continued…………..

My son spent most of the “play date” trying to protect himself from the little blonde girl. The mother was just totally oblivious to anything her daughter did, yet totally tuned in to my sons crying after he would get whacked by the spoon.

“Oh, Andres, I’m sorry, are you having a bad day?”
said the lady with the big straw hat.

Now, my son was pretty verbal as a three year old,
you know the third adult syndrome, blah, blah, blah.

And here it comes, those moments in life that you never forget.
The ones you tell your kids about when they’re older.

The lady with the big straw hat stood by the front doorway with
her blonde demonic child in the stroller.

She just looked at my son and said,

“I hope the next time we visit
you won't have such a “bad day”

With that my three-year-old son
just looked at her and said,


The gasp could be heard around the world.

The woman with the big straw
hat just looked at my son frozen.

My wife started sweating while I was
laughing inside as hard as I could.

Let me tell you when you grow up in Brooklyn
you just love moments like this, you just do.

My wife and I did our best to make Andres
apologize for his remark, although we knew he
just said what we were thinking all throughout
the entire play date.

My wife did her best to avoid the woman with the big straw hat form that day on. Carefully surveying the playground before she opened the heavy black gate day after day. It was just that bad.

We don’t know what happened to the lady with the big straw hat and her daughter, she never called us and we never called her. It was Brooklyn justice, plain and simple. But like all good "Kensington Stories", they all start somewhere.

And we’ll never forget the “Play Date from Hell”

Ron Lopez
Website Counter

Free Counter