Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Eve at Pitta's Funeral Home

The New Years Eve parties that my Grandparents had at 399 East 4th were something else. For what seemed like days they would both prepare the food for the party. Turkey, ham, roast beef, cole slow, potato salad, black beans and white rice, fried bananas, along with many traditional dishes from Spain too complicated to mention.

And my Grandfather Paco was a true gentleman also. There he would be alongside my Grandmother helping prepare all the dishes that would be spread out on the dining room table by six o’clock on December 31st., including desserts all made by hand.

You could usually expect upwards to fifty people at the house on New Years Eve. Cousins from as close as East 2nd street to as far as Patterson, New Jersey made the trek to Kensington for the “Big Bash”. Just packing the house like sardines in a tin can and usually spilling out onto the front porch too.

But one problem that always faced the family was the lack of chairs. Sure there was the couch and Paco’s lazy boy along with the eight or so dining room chairs. But still they were all just a very small dent on the side of the big ship called 399, and simply not enough to support all the guests.

So one year after Christmas my Uncle Manuel, who lived on East 2nd street, told my Grandfather Paco about the idea of renting chairs from Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue. “Pitta’s” was and still is a funeral home off Fort Hamilton Parkway, and according to my uncle Manuel, "never does New Years Eve funerals". So why not drive over there and ask about renting some chairs for a “good price” was his suggestion to my Grandfather.

Now you have to understand that my Uncle Manuel was always looking for a “good price”.

At six feet five inches, he had the most booming “Brooklyn” voice you could ever imagine, and was also a truck driver who sometimes brought boxes of things that “fell off the truck” to our house.
So when it came to finding a “good price” or "no price" at all, you could always depend on my Uncle Manuel to find it.

My grandfather Paco on the other hand was alot more reserved than my Uncle Manuel. He never really wanted to know where the boxes "fell" from, but gladly took anything my Uncle offered him nevertheless. I guess they were just the "SAP" versions of "Oscar and Felix", and somehow managed to get along quite well as

“Hey, you kids ready to help get the chairs?” said my Uncle Manuel.

“Sure!” said my brother Joseph, Pete, and I in unison.

“Now you know this place we’re going to is a funeral home,
so I don’t want to hear any screaming when you see a stiff, ok?”

All of us shook our heads together, including me,
too embarrassed to ask my older brother what a “stiff” was.

So we walked down the stairs and piled into our 63 Rambler wagon and drove to Pittas on McDonald Avenue. We parked the Rambler in the back of the funeral parlor by the loading dock where they bring in the new customers. My Uncle Manuel made the sign of the cross when he got out of the car, although I never remembered seeing him
at IHM.

“Now you children must not go into any of the other rooms, we must respect the property and only go where the man tells us to. We are here to pick up chairs and not to play,” said my Grandfather Paco.

My uncle Manuel on the other hand just started laughing and told us not to look at the “stiffs” because we might have nightmares.

We walked up the back steps into the funeral parlor, I immediately started smelling something sweet and thought it must have been flowers. The carpet was a dark red and the place was really cold.
As we walked up the hallway there were doors to the left and right of us, all closed.

“Here are the chairs, how many do you need?’ said the owner.

As my Grandfather Paco and Uncle Manuel worked out a deal on the chairs we started walking back down the hallway we just walked up from. All the doors had nameplates on them and all but one was closed shut. It was open about a half an inch and was completely
dark inside.

“You want to look?” said Joseph.

We just said nothing as he started to open the door; the smell of the flowers became stronger as the door opened more. We noticed a light coming from the front of the room but still couldn’t see anything.

“Come on, just open it,” said my cousin Pete.

We all slowly pushed the wooden door open with our eyes closed. Once it was fully open we all opened our eyes. Our screams could probably be heard in the subway tunnel deep below McDonald Avenue that day. There in the dark room below the glow of a single white lamp was an elderly bald man lying in a wooden casket. He had white hair on the sides of his head and wore glasses. Not knowing what do or where to run we just stood there screaming at the top of our
little lungs.

Before we could move the heavy hands of my Uncle Manuel and Grandfather Paco were on our shoulders pulling us backwards. As I looked at my Grandfather his face was red and he looked quite angry. My Uncle Manuel on the other hand was laughing at the top of his 6 foot 5 lungs. The man at the funeral parlor just smiled at my Grandfather and said “that’s OK it happens all the time.

My Grandfather didn’t say much during the ride back to East 4th, but seemed to forget about it by the time we parked in the driveway. We all helped carry up the chairs and another New Years Eve Party at 399 East 4th was well underway. Just waiting for the "ball to drop" and scream "Happy New Year" at the top of our lungs in the Brooklyn of my youth, a long time ago.

Ron Lopez

Catskill Sunrise 7 am New Years Eve

A silent News Years Eve up here in the mountains,
while Times Square rocks some 145 miles away.

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Donald and the F train

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Save some coins this winter

I have seen a few posts so far about insulation, window replacement and so on. And I’m sure it’s all in an effort to save fuel this winter. Now I’m not an expert on this stuff but I can tell you what I did to lower the cost of my National Grid and old Keyspan bills.

My house has over sixty-five windows and kills me every winter when it comes to amount of money I have to spend to heat its old body.
It’s a large wood frame and lacks the proper insulation between the walls that much newer houses have.

Well the first thing I did over a period of time was replace all the old windows with modern double insulated windows. And made sure to have the windows “capped” properly and caulked. This was an instant success when it came to saving money, probably a few thousand dollars the first winter.

And let me give you some real numbers on this so you can understand the importance of windows. My house is over 4000 square feet and my gas bill is about four thousand dollars a year with new windows. My good friend down the block owns a house that's about 2800 square feet. He pays about six thousand dollars a year for his gas because he still has the old windows from 1963. I keep telling him to change his windows, but still he hasn't.

Then we looked into having insulation blown into the attic crawl space above the third floor ceiling. This was also an instant money saver and helped keep the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The cost also was much less than having insulation blown between the walls of the entire house. Maybe 1500 dollars about five years ago.

My wife also read about these really thick insulated drapes that cover the windows, they are very and heavy and really keep the cold out during those 10 degree days. And in the summer they really help in keeping the hot sun out of the apartment. Once again a smart move and I have seen my gas bills go down once again.

Also make sure that there is nothing blocking the area where your boiler pipe goes into the chimney. Every fall I make sure to “ShopVac” this area clean, because your boiler needs to breathe properly or otherwise it will choke itself.

I still have other things in mind but once again it all costs money. For instance I can either have insulation blown between the walls, which is about ten thousand dollars. Or remove all my vinyl siding, attach those 2-inch thick insulation boards and then put my siding back on. That would be the ultimate, but once again a big expense.

These are just some ideas and I hope
they can save you some money this winter.

Ron Lopez

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thank You Freddie Schefferman

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Catskill Webcam today @ 1:30 pm

Here is a webcam shot from the house taken just a few minutes ago.
The house shot is from the "Bird House" cam,
while the mountain shot is from the "House Cam"
located in top floor bedroom.

And just think Kensington is only 150 miles away
over those mountains!

Ron Lopez

Monday, December 6, 2010

Park Circle Lanes on a Winters Day

I think my earliest recollection of Park Circle Lanes was when my cousin Tony took us there on a snowy winter’s day.
I must have been no more than seven years old and it was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a bowling alley.

And the walk to the bowling alley was real simple too. Just straight up East Fourth and then a right on Caton Avenue. Follow the horse crap from Kensington Stables and then you're there! You see the bowling alley was right across from the horse stables and also the Park Circle roller rink. Just a little wonderland of things to do when it was snowing outside.

So with cold toes and snow on our feet we opened the doors and walked into the warm air of the bowling alley. The long dark maple planks that made up the alleys along with bright lights shinning on the bowling pins were the first thing I noticed. There was a concession stand that sold hot dogs and popcorn along with soda machines lining the back wall. And of course there was cigarette smoke in the air, because back in the 60’s everyone smoked at bowling alleys. So smelling like smoke when you got home was no big deal, no, just change your shirt and it will all be fine.

Now cousin Tony was always so nice to us little kids when we were growing up on East Fourth. He must have been at least fifteen years older than us and I’m sure could have been having much more fun with his friends down by Avenue M where he lived. But for whatever reason Tony always made sure to show us all a good time, either riding sleds in Prospect Park or ice-skating at Wollman Rink. Yeah we all loved Tony, and were always excited when we heard he was coming over.

“Ok guys, we’re going to have to get each one of you a pair of bowling shoes”.

I remember being very confused because I was told to
take off one shoe and give it to the lady behind the counter.

“What size is he?”

“He looks like a size five to me”

“Here, just make sure you return them with the laces UN-DONE!

The women behind the counter handed me a pair of strange looking red and white shoes. I walked over to a plastic bench and proceeded to put them on.

There were also racks and racks of bowling balls all over the place too, mostly black bowling balls with a few red ones scattered around.

“Ok Pete, Ronnie and Joseph, I am going to get each one of you a bowling ball and I want you all to be very careful with them. They are very heavy and if you drop it on your foot your parents aren’t going to be very happy with me.”

Tony walked over to the racks and lifted various balls with his right hand. After a couple of minutes he started bringing over the black balls and gently placed them on the rack right behind the ball return

“Now Ronnie this is how you throw the ball”

I remember watching Tony as he rolled the black ball smoothly down the long dark alley. Within seconds the pins exploded and the ball disappeared into darkness. Tony looked at us and smiled.

“See guys that’s how you do it”

When it was my turn I remember picking up the heavy ball with both my hands, I slowly walked up to the alley and rolled it with all my might. Within moments the ball slid sideways into the gutter. I walked back feeling somewhat dejected but Tony made sure to cheer me up by telling me I did a great job. He also did his best to encourage me too.

"Ronnie, try to roll it straight down the lane next time,
I know you can do it".

So the second time I rolled the ball it did go straight down the lane, it hit about three pins and I felt like a millionaire!

That was 1965 on a snowy winter's day in Kensington Brooklyn.

It’s funny how you just remember certain things in life, and if there’s one thing I will always remember it’s the first time I rolled a bowling ball down at Park Circle Lanes. The agony of seeing it fall into the gutter, along with the joy of seeing the ball knock down a pin or two. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs along with cigarette smoke on your clothes. The walk home through the snow filled sidewalks of Kensington with Tony, Joseph and Pete. Feeling so proud of myself that I got a twenty-five, and so excited to tell my mom about the bowling alley and the fun I had there.

I still remember that day, isn’t that something?

So whatever happened to Kensington’s Park Circle Lanes?

Well sometime back in the late 80’s or early 90’s it closed down like many other bowling alleys in Brooklyn and just became another memory for a child of Brooklyn. Now replaced by a gigantic church right across the street form Kensington Stables where it once was.

Oh, but don't you worry, some things never change. One snowy Saturday a few weeks ago I took my kids over to Melody Lanes in Sunset Park. When the lady behind the counter handed us our shoes she made sure to remind us to return them with the laces UN-DONE!

And both my kids had the time of their lives,
and maybe someday will think of it too.

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Ron Lopez

Orange Hats in the Catskills

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving night was usually spent on the road driving upstate to our house in the Catskills.

With the 63 Rambler station wagon chugging up the West Side highway. I always made sure to stay up long enough to see that big billboard-like truck that was somewhere near the Chinese embassy up by 42nd street.

Remember the lights it used to have on all it's wheels? They looked like they were rolling, although the thing just stood in one place for something like 50 years.

And there were always a lot of orange hats in our car too. Because it was hunting season upstate, and you never knew if someone would mistake us for some deer when we went sledding the next morning.

Yeah, there I was little mister Kensington Stories with a great big plastic orange hat over my little head. And the same punishment was doled out for my older brother Joseph too.

Oh, and my dog Skipper, well, because he was pitch black we never let him outside. No, he most certainly would have been mistaken for a sixty pound Black Bear.

Well, those post Thanksgiving weekends were sure fun. And thank God everyone knew where the house was once when the guns went off and the deer went down.

Yes, there was no one prouder than my dad or grandfather when they had a dead deer tied to the roof of our 63 Rambler. Just slowly driving down East 4th street so everyone could check it out.

Sometimes the damn thing would have it's tongue sticking out too! Wow, that really made people "stop and stare" if you know what
I mean.

Well, these days are a little different, I don’t really hunt and neither does my wife. And she’s from Texas too, so that’s really shocking.

When we go upstate these days after Thanksgiving I still bring those orange hats though. We even blow an air horn before we go sledding down the hill in front of our house.

But the only thing we have tied to our roof on the way home may be a sled to use in Prospect Park. Just ready to scream and yell "without" our orange hats, when this snowy Catskill winter finally reaches the streets of Kensington Brooklyn.

Ron Lopez

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Avenue F Hockey Sunday 11/21 @ 9am

I have this picture in my head of all these Cooper hockey gloves slowly breaking through the dirt of Greenwood cemetery with a full moon in the sky. One by one the bodies start lifting up through the soil, the jerseys are old and tattered, they are Blackhawks, Rangers, Northstars, Penguins and Flyers. You can't see their faces because there are none. One by one they start standing up and slowly skate on the blacktop that leads out of the cemetery and to McDonald Avenue. Down the hill they go through the darkness of a cold Brooklyn night with splintered old Sherwood and Koho wooden hockey sticks in hand. The blades are worn and almost pencil thin, their quad skates are still spitting dirt and grass from the cemetery as they fly down the hill and zip past cars and buses. Almost floating until they reach Avenue F some two miles away. They make a hard left and skate right through cars heading north on McDonald under the El. Making their way to the court and take their places on the bench, they wait and wait until the sun starts to rise over the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway.

Yes, it's Sunday morning and they are waiting for us.
Because we said we would be there, and not let them down.

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Some Great Stuff!
Neil Diamond visits his old childhood home on Church Avenue

Ron Lopez

Monday, November 15, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pushing Tin over Kensington

The tin’s been moving over Kensington since I was a kid looking out my bedroom window. The flight path is exactly the same and has never moved.
On any Sunday night you can count upwards to a dozen Jet lights stretching from Brooklyn through Staten Island and into New Jersey.

In the early 60’s there were probably more prop planes than jets.
I would sometimes sit with my Dad on the couch and try to make out the tail markings with my telescope. Pan Am, Eastern, United, TWA. Just about when they reached Ocean Parkway you could see the landing gear start to come down and the planes would usually disappear over the apartment buildings before the wheels were
fully in position.

We also had these strange “whirly birds” too; they were double bladed helicopters that used to land at LaGuardia along with the planes and jets. I believe they came out of Newark, but I was never quite sure. I know at one time they used to land at the top of the Pan Am building, now the Met Life building in the city. The gigantic “whirly birds” seemed to end their flights over my house around the same time they ended them in the city. One of them had a horrible accident on the top of the Pan Am building in Manhattan, killing some people on the roof and down below on Vanderbilt back in
the early 70’s.

I think I was too young to remember seeing the wounded
United DC-8 fly overhead on fire before it crashed in Park Slope in 1960. But according to my Mom, I was home at the time and may have seen it if I was staring out the back window as usual. And I can’t tell you the hundreds of dreams I have had in my lifetime, about seeing a jet on fire flying over my house.

I would have been almost three at the time, but I can’t really say I remember seeing that Jet before it crashed.

I had to spend New Years Day this year at the emergency room with my wife at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope. After about twelve hours they finally discharged her. On the way out we passed by the Chapel in the hospital. There’s a plaque on the wall outside the Chapel that’s dedicated to the memory of a little boy that initially survived that Jet crash. Only to die a day later of severe burns. They bronzed all the change the kid had in his pocket, and attached it to the plaque. His name was Stephen Baltz.

And as far as seeing that Jet fly over my
house in 1960 before it crashed in Park Slope.
I hope it was just a dream and nothing more.

Ron Lopez

Monday, November 8, 2010

Catskill Webcams (2 pm today)

Enjoy the snow folks!

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

It’s funny, but there’s something about the crisp weather that will always remind me of playing roller hockey on the block back in the 70’s. Yeah, setting up the net behind Bob Brennan’s Treat Potato Chip truck and hoping that no one breaks one of his tail lights with a near frozen "Scotch 88”. How many of us were there, huh? Six, eight, ten? It’s hard to imagine seeing kids playing in the street now, because that just doesn’t happen in Brooklyn anymore.

Now while most of my friends from the block went to High School in Brooklyn, I was one of the “fortunate” or maybe “un-fortunate” ones who had to make the trek into the City every day. The ride on the F-train was something like one hour and my school was planted right on the corner of Second Avenue and Fifty Seventh Street in Manhattan. So when it came to getting home in time to play with the guys, it was a real pain in the ass. And especially when we had to turn the clocks backward in late October. Because that meant that it was dark by five, and I would only get about 45 minutes worth of pucks shot at me in front of Molly and Martin’s house.

So how did I solve this problem, well when school ended at 3 o’clock I would usually run like hell down 56th street and then up to Third Avenue to try to catch the 3:10 F train from 179th street. The 3:10 would usually roll into Church Avenue about 4 o’clock and that would give me enough time to strap on the pads and the rest of my goalie stuff and skate into the crease by 4:15. Only about 45 minutes of playing time, but I guess it was better than nothing. Oh, but then there were those days that I missed the 4:10 F, and I was cursed with the 4:20 or even worse the 4:30 F to Coney Island. When I was on one of those trains I just about lost all my excitement when it came to playing. That’s because I was doomed to only play for less than a half hour before it got dark.

Yeah, don’t let the sun go down on me.
Especially when it came to playing hockey on the block,
And especially when the guys were all waiting for me.

Ron Lopez

Sunday, October 31, 2010

R.I.P. Pontiac

So today I heard that GM is officially retiring the "Pontiac" name.
Yes Pete, just like Plymouth, we now have something else in
common besides being blood relatives!


Friday, October 29, 2010

Do it for your friends and family

You know folks; I always promised myself that I would never lay any kind of crap on anyone. You know, “smoking’s not good for you”, watching what you eat, losing weight, politics, religion, etc. Because truth is it could only lead to bad feelings with friends, and most people don’t like others telling them what they should be doing anyhow. And it’s also a good way to loose a lifelong friend and insult them at the same time. No not me, I’m never going to run that kind of business with my friends.

So that being said, all I’m going to do is tell you guys about my really horrible track record when it came to seeing a doctor for anything, and how after almost 35 years or so I’m slowly changing my ways. So maybe my kids just might have someone to push off a cliff in his wheelchair while wearing his old 70th pct Northstars jersey forty years from now. Holding an old rotted Sherwood goalie stick with a scotch 88 tucked in his yellowed urine stained underwear, yeah that just might be me goalie mask and all.

Ok, so the first time I ever saw a doctor was probably the day I was born in late December of 1957 over at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope. Just a slap on my ass and that’s it. Yeah, that one counts, and that’s number ONE. Then from that point I would assume that my mom had to have me checked every year until I finished high school back in 1975. Oh, but those were my “mommy” check-ups, and not generated by me, so lets not count them because she was calling for the appointments. And besides many of them took place at doctor Albin’s office, and who knew if he was a real doctor anyway?

So let’s start from scratch at 18 shall we?

Ok, doctor appointment number one was made after I had this ongoing temperature for about one month and my urine was as dark as apple juice. I was around 23 at the time and I just met my first wife who was my girlfriend at the time. Who knows what the hell I had? but a trip to doctor Martinucchi on Prospect Park West and a prescription from the Eagle Pharmacy cleared that up after a few days. And of course a follow up to find out what gave me my kidney infection was never ever followed up with. But the original point here was that it took me one month to see someone even though I had a fever and some “Motts” apple juice flowing out of you know what

Ok, that was 5 years from my last “mommy” appointment,
and I guess five years isn’t too bad huh?

Now, the next stretch is real long here, because I can’t even remember ever seeing a doctor for anything. There were bruises from pucks, Delco car batteries falling on my hand, coughs, fevers, cuts, but never a doctor ever being called. There was even a broken finger that I repaired myself after I got “freaked out” at this walk in medical office on McDonald Avenue. I remember this Bangladeshi doctor in a white coat saying:

“Oh, you have not been to a doctor in 20 years?,
it is time for a full check-up my friend”

With that I walked out and taped up my finger in my garage with an old scotch 88 I had sitting in my goalie glove. No, no check-up for me when I can do it myself.

But then that day came, and I was doomed…

I was playing some pick-up hockey in Fort Greene when I was about 43 years old; I made this awkward leg save and heard this strange tear on the side of my leg. For a moment I thought it was my goalie pants, but then the pain came and I knew it was trouble. I went home and put some ice on it, but it did little to ease the pain. By nightfall my knee was swollen and I knew this one was trouble.

Now, what would ever force me to go see a doctor?

A fever? No
A month-long cough? No
A sore throat? No

An injury that would affect me playing goalie? Yes.

So the deed was done, and after about 20 years I made an appointment to see a doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery to check out my “internet assumed” cartilage tear.

“So who’s your primary care doctor?”
I think I might have actually said doctor Albin, even though the last time I saw him was probably 25 years ago.

“And when was the last time you had a check-up?”

“Oh, it’s been a while”, I said

“Well, we’re going to have to look you over to make sure we can do this procedure”

And they did, but not the whole nine yards, or the finger with the “KY” on it if you know what I mean. But still in my little mind I guess that was some kind of check-up.

Ok, so that was 25 years since the last one, and I guess not bad considering I never died.

Oh, and I guess I forgot to mention here that I got married again when I was 41 years old, and my wife Virginia was starting the old “time for a check-up” thing with me. But that hockey injury solved that problem, so I was covered.

“So when are you going to see a doctor?” said my wife.
“But I’m not sick, so why should I see one?”
“You see a doctor when you’re ok not always when you’re sick”
“It’s called being responsible as a father”

Oh yes, I forgot to mention here that I had a son now and he was two years old.

So I promised I would go and never went, the months rolled by then the years rolled on as well. Until finally I decided to see a doctor that a friend recommended in the city on the Upper East Side. That was 2001 and three years after my knee surgery.

And guess what folks, all was well and I was fine. Blood tests good, blood pressure, prostate and the rest. And once again I was good for another five years or so.

“So when are you going for your check-up again” said my wife.
“But I just went five years ago”
“Five years ago?”
“You’re supposed to go every year”

So once again it was time to make an appointment, and I did. And about five years to the day from my last appointment the doctor saw me again.

And guess what folks, all was well and I was fine. Blood tests good, blood pressure, prostate and the rest. And once again I was good for another five years or so.

“So when are you going for your check-up again” said my wife.
“But I just went five years ago”
“Five years ago?”
“You’re supposed to go every year”

So I made appointments, cancelled appointments, cancelled appointments and then finally went back to see my doctor as a "new patient". Thats because they threw out all my charts because I wasn't there in such a long time.

“You know when you’re fifty you should go for your colonoscopy Ron” said my doctor

“A what?”
“A colonoscopy” said my doctor.
“Here read this”
The doctor gave me this pamphlet on the procedure.

Well, fifty turned to fifty-one, fifty one to fifty two and then the questions from my wife once again.

“So when are you going for your colonoscopy?” said my wife

“Well, let me have my check-up first with my regular doctor and then I’ll schedule my colonoscopy”

And guess what folks, all was well and I was fine. Blood tests good, blood pressure, prostate and the rest. And once again I was good for another five years or so.

But not my colonoscopy, I need to do that sooner than later, because a promise is a promise. And I told my wife I would.

So I went to see the "colon" doctor for a consultation and he told me all about it. I made an appointment at the front desk before I walked out and I promised myself I would not "pussy" out of it. The appointment was one month to the day after my consultation. October 25th 2010.

And yes, I drank that funky drink, and yes I did not eat any solid food for one day. And yes I had a hard time sleeping the night before my colonoscopy because I was scared they would tell me right then and there that something was wrong. Because they will tell you right then and there after you wake up if something looks abnormal.

Well folks, on Monday October 25th at 7:30 am I finally had my colonoscopy, and all was fine. And it’s really not as bad as everyone says it is. And given the fact that many people die from colon cancer because they never have it checked, it’s well worth getting checked out before it’s too late. And if I can do this anyone can, because when it comes to going to doctors for anything I am the biggest six foot three two hundred pound infant in the world! But I did do it, and yes it counts.

Note: Colon cancer is the type of cancer that will just sneak up on you without you ever knowing you have it. You can feel great and run 25 miles a day, but it still may be brewing inside of you and waiting to kill you in a few years. You can eat right, not smoke, not drink and it will spread to your liver before you know it and be a stage four killer. So PLEASE do yourself this one favor, have a colonoscopy soon, because if something is found now, you WILL live to be an old person. And we do want you to be around and so do your friends and family.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Gruder please come home

Glenn Gruder grew up on my block,
East 4th street. He was one of the guys that I played hockey with during the day and then cards with at night. Glenn always liked to argue about anything and everything, so it made perfect sense that he became a lawyer later in life.
Glenn was an excellent athlete and probably still is.
He was also quite instrumental in my first meeting with
my former wife. And although it didn’t quite have a happy ending,
he was there when it counted nevertheless.

Glenn went to PS 179, Ditmas and then Tilden High School,
a perfect Brooklyn “triple play”. And being a Yankee fan, it only made sense that he went to Willie Randolph’s Alma mater, Tilden.
Glenn attended Syracuse University Law School. So he did finally make it out of Brooklyn, but hell, he was never that far anyway.

So this is where it gets very confusing.
Glenn moved to Smithtown, Long Island after he got married,
and never looked back.

I mean, why would such a powerful Brooklyn soul move to Long Island? He could have certainly fit in “Park Slope”, even though he grew up in Kensington. And all his favorite sports teams were always right here in town. Hell, the Yankees are a subway ride away, the Rangers a skip into the City. Heck, even the Giants are a lot closer than "Smithtown".

And what the the heck is "Smithtown" anyway,
do those two bearded brothers make cough drops there?

So Glenn, what gives? Why did you do it? I know you were'nt afraid of Brooklyn, because you were always tougher than the rest.
And if my memory serves me, I think your mom still lives here too.

Oh, I think I know what it was, that terrible apartment house on Avenue C, between East 4th and East 5th. The endless police cars racing up our block, the gun shots at night. Yeah, I have to admit, the 80’s were really scary, even here in Kensington. And if there was one building that was going to take down the neighborhood, it was certainly that apartment house.

But Glenn, you should see that building now,
it's chock full of wonderful smart people.
And I don't think any of them even carry a hand gun.

What? You mean there were others who left too?
Oh right, my cousin Pete left in 1979
Bobby Brennan in the late 80’s
Neil O’Callaghan in the 80’s
Jimmy Brier in the 80’s
Jimmy Spinner in the 90’s
And Nunzio, even before in the 70’s

What the hell guys?
Was it something I said?

Didn't you guys ever listen to Neil Diamond?
"Brooklyn Roads", "I am I said?"


Oh right, If my mom didn’t need a place to live, I probably would have moved too. But instead, I ended up buying the house, so she could live out her live here in Brooklyn. Because my mom never really wanted to leave Brooklyn you know.

Well, maybe you got me on that one, yes maybe.

Oh, I see, you have kids in school, and it’s not a good time to move back to Brooklyn. OK, I’ll buy that, because uprooting a kid from school is not exactly the best thing anyway.

But aren’t all your kids in college?
So they're not home anyway.

Oh, come on boys, do you all really like the suburbs that much?

Psst, are there really Owls out by you?
And do they really go “Hoot” at night?
And the ticks?
Can they really make you foam at the mouth?
Or is that rabies?

Oh, come on stop, don’t get mad, I was just kidding.

And I know you're going to stand on that soapbox and defend wherever you live. Because anyone that moves out of Brooklyn will always put down the “boro of their birth”, and prop up whatever “unknown” place they live in now, bragging about how great it is.

Yeah, I guess that’s only human nature.

But just remember boys, your “human nature”
starts with a capital “B” and ends with a lowercase “n”.
And the streets are still calling you,
wherever you may be.

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Avenue C Hell

When I was growing up in Kensington we only knew
this place as “The Apartment House on Avenue C”.
No, forget an address or anything like that, it was
just “The Apartment House on Avenue C”.

I could tell you that in the 60’s this place was a mix of
young parents, children and the elderly. Many of my
PS 179 classmates lived here and it was not uncommon
to find their grandparents living in the same apartment.
With white pillows propped on concrete windowsills
they’d wave to their grandchildren as they walked up
Avenue C towards school.

And the “Apartment House on Avenue C” was mostly
Jewish too. During the holidays when East 4th was
ablaze with Christmas lights and plastic Santa faces
nailed above doorways. The “Apartment House”
was chock full of brightly lit Hanukah Menorahs”
with orange bulbs in just about every window.

I had friends there; my Mom had friends there.
It was just a wonderful extension of my block,
and was a very solid pillar that made Kensington
that nice in the 60’s.

But then something happened in the 70’s and like
every other “great exodus” it just happened
without warning.

The "Apartment House on Avenue C" had changed,
all my friends were gone and there were no more
elderly leaning on the windowsills. Yes, other people
were living there now and they weren't exactly as
nice as my friend "Harold Levy" from PS 179.

No, instead of placing an orange bulb in a plastic
Hanukah Menorah late at night, a 38-caliber bullet
was being placed in the cold chamber of a handgun.

And seeing a Police car racing down my block and
parked in front of the “Apartment House on Avenue C”
was the norm. And don’t ever mess with
“Lucky and his gang” because he always had a handgun
that he’d flash us when he walked by my stoop.

Yes, the houses on my block were being robbed,
people were getting mugged and my block was changing.
It was time to leave Brooklyn folks, this was it,
and it’s never going to be the same again.

And they did leave, they left in droves.

Now, I’m not going to say that that apartment house
was all to blame for everyone leaving. But it certainly
must have played a major role in some of my friend’s
parents deciding to move to the suburbs. I mean having
the cold barrel of a gun placed on the side of your
temple doesn’t speak kindly of Brooklyn at all.
And I’m sure it “somehow” prompted that real
estate page to be looked at touting the wonders
of “Kings Park Long Island”.

Yeah, forget about East 4th and especially that
“Apartment House on Avenue C”.
a safe place is where we want to live.

So let’s pack up the station wagon,
And say goodbye to the neighbors.
Goodbye “Motherless Brooklyn”,
Kings Park here we come!

Wow, it was amazing how one building and
a few shootings could scare away my whole block.

But then there were those that “stayed”.

And just like in that movie “Escape from New York”,
we sat around the fires we made from burning
car tires and kept ourselves warm at night.

Yeah, some huddled masses never left.
Doomed to suffer on East 4th and Kensington.
All because of the “Apartment House on Avenue C”.
Just waiting for the world to end.

But then something happened.
After a while there were no more police cars racing
down my block, and no more shootings.
Lucky and his boys were finally gone and we heard
the “Apartment House” was going co-op.

It was all so baffling, because East 4th was
headed towards oblivion you see.
And we were all supposed to go to
Hell along with that “building”.

But it never really happened.
Because it went co-op.
Yes, because it went co-op.

And even today some thirty years after
“Lucky and his boys” left that “Apartment
House on Avenue C”, I’m still amazed at how
that placed has changed. Young parents
with children along with some the brightest
minds around always stroll down my block.
All living in a building that would
make 60’s Kensington proud again.

And me, well I'm feeling good these days.
Because instead of "Lucky and his Boys"
walking by my stoop, there are warm smiles
and "good mornings". And no one from
"The Apartment House on Avenue C" ever
flashes a 38-caliber handgun when they
walk by my house.

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Vote for my sister-in-law NOW

Vote for my sister-in-law Mariadele because she actually does stuff
for Brooklyn while the rest of us just whine, complain, do nothing,
or even write old goofy stories about when we were kids.
Oh, and by the way, she was also very active with things in Kensington back in the early 1990's and worked with many of the merchants on Church Avenue.

Here's the link, all you have to do is take a few seconds to register.

Why you should vote for Mariadele Priest
Mariadele Priest is a person deeply committed to the betterment of communities and the lives of the people who live in those communities. From her early days as Executive Director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors to her present role as VP, CRA Housing Development at Capital One Bank, Mariadele has not only directed the organizational assets at her disposal where they were needed most, but has also given of her personal time, energy, expertise and resources. A community advocate and coalition builder, Mariadele unites institutions and organizations toward a common goal – a safe, affordable home for every man, woman and child in Brooklyn. She serves on the Boards of the New York Mortgage Coalition and Restored Homes, and chairs the Pratt Area Community Council Board of Directors, leading the charge for holistic community development, not from behind a desk, but in the trenches. She is known in the community for her judgment, and for rolling up her sleeves, diving in and making things happen.

Community Impact
In a city comprised of many diverse neighborhoods, the question, “where do you live?” is a common topic of conversation. But for many people in Brooklyn, the answer is not so simple. Mariadele believes that too many of our neighbors can’t say that they have – what so many of us often take for granted – access to safe and affordable housing. Mariadele has responded to Brooklyn’s housing crisis by supporting the creation and preservation of affordable housing, counseling homebuyers, helping to broaden the services provided by organizations and understanding the proactive role that banks must play in underserved communities. She has also helped local nonprofits build their capacity to serve low-to-moderate income home buyers. Mariadele's homebuyer trainings have helped countless New Yorkers achieve their dream of safe, responsible home ownership. She has also created a peer education program for youth, through which more than 1,000 students across NYC received lessons on budgeting, saving and money management.

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My First Car in Kensington

It's always hard to forget your first boat. Mine was about 18 feet long and a dark forest green. It had light tan captains chairs and a 350 Buick V8. And you had to be real careful when you backed it out of the dock too, not to sideswipe the house or scratch the freshly compounded paint on the bushes.

Then when you’re rolling down the river you gotta make sure to have your “Boston” 8-Track on full volume, and at least one hand on the wheel. Just washing the kids and the elderly into their front stoops from your powerful wake. Oh, and you better not have any small stones in-between your hubcaps and the whitewall tires, because that noise just ain’t cool. Ting, Ting, Ting.

And you never have to worry about getting lost at sea or Prospect Park either, because all you’d have to do is shoot up a flair and have the Coast Guard land right on your hood.
Yeah, that hood was so damn big!

I think it was late October back in 1976 when I got the bug to buy my first car. I was 19 at the time and always imagined it to be something real cool too. Oh, lets see........70 Cuda, 68 AMX, 69 Dodge Charger. All the car models I built as a kid with my cousin Pete upstate in the Catskills, on those very rainy days. And now, I could own one all for myself!. Heck, my friend from work Peter LoBianco even had a Pontiac Astra lined up for me, nice two door with a small V8, but the deal fell through.

“You know Ronnie, my sister and Frank are thinking about selling their car” said my Mom. “Oh, I don’t know Mom, that’s not the kind of car I really had in mind”.

Now, let me tell you about my Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Frank’s Buick. It was only three years old but looked like it went through the mill. Although my Uncle Frank worked for "Wonder Bread" in Queens, by the look of the car you’d think he used it as a cab. It was constantly dirty and the interior was yellowed and smelled like cigarette smoke. There were scratches all over it and it had a big dent in the rear passengers side quarter panel from when my Uncle Frank sideswiped a Amish Buggy in Lancaster, PA. Oh, and buy the way don’t believe that crap that those people don’t go in cars, they chased my uncle and shook him down for 300 bucks. In a red pick-up truck no less. So you see the idea of buying that car and possibly being a marked man for the rest of my life in Amish Country wasn’t exactly something this Brooklyn boy had in mind.

“I think they want 2000 dollars for it” said my mom. The price wasn’t exactly a bargain, but then again the car did have low mileage and with some Clorox, compound and wax, you never know what you could come up with. “My sister said that if you don’t want it they would buy it back”.

Oh right, my aunt would send bogus letters to GE, saying all her light bulbs were defective just to get a box of free ones. So, I knew the car was “never” going to be returned. “So, what do you think Ronnie?” “Should I tell her OK?”. At that point I looked towards the heavens asking my Brother and Father what I should do. Hoping to hear some voice whisper in my ear. But, there was no voice, and all I could think about was the time we got stuck on route 17 near Monticello, in my Dad’s 63 Rambler on our way to Downsville. Thinking we were going to never be found and freeze to death just a few hundred feet from a Jewish bungalow colony. And then those two letters just came out of my mouth, there was no turning back now. “OK”.

So the next morning we went to see my next door neighbor Mr. Blank over at Nationwide on Church avenue for the insurance cards, and then Greater on McDonald Avenue to cut us a money order for 2000 dollars. It was down the subway stairs to the F-train, and a long ride to 179 street Jamaica, last stop.

Now at 19, I was an F-train veteran you know. From changing prices on hockey sticks at Mays on Jay street, when I was 12. To my daily ride to the High School of Art & Design on Lexington ave. until I was 17. I had it down. But today the ride was especially long, and forget about Queens. Anything after Lexington avenue should just as well be Kansas, because I never really go to Queens. Except of course to see Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Frank. But “Queens Village” is so close to Long Island, I never really considered it was part of the city anyway. As we walked up the stairway I could see my uncle Frank in his new 77 Olds Cutlass waiting by the curb. “So, you must be excited Ronnie” said my Uncle. I got inside the car, smiled and nodded to my uncle. As we got closer to their house I started to become more excited, and with a money order for 2000 dollars in my pocket, I knew I would be driving back to Brooklyn in my first car.

My uncle parked his car in front of his house and it was up the driveway we went to take a look at the Buick. “I didn’t get a chance to clean it or anything” said my Uncle. Knowing my Uncle never cleaned it anyway, I just said “that’s OK”. And everything was just like I remembered it, cigarette butts in the ashtray, the yellowed interior, the smell of stale smoke, and the dent from the Amish Buggy. Not to mention the scratches and the overall look as though it was waxed with sand and Brillo.

Well, we handed my aunt and uncle the money order and celebrated with coffee and cake on their kitchen table. It was congratulations, kisses and hugs and then it was on our way to Kensington, Brooklyn.

The ride on the Belt Parkway was smooth sailing, My poor Mom indured about an hours worth of WPLJ. “Meat Loaf” “that’s a real funny name” said my Mom. “In my day singers used their real names, like Tony Bennett and Bing Crosby”. “What a bunch of idiots today”.

And then finally I saw it, like a beacon in the night. Exit 7N, Ocean Parkway! We made the right off the Belt and on to the service road, another right onto Ocean Parkway and it wouldn’t be long now. As the alphabet got closer to C, I started to feel the excitement and reality of finally owning my own car. We made a big left hand turn onto Beverly Road and then another onto East 4th.

To this day I clearly remember the reflections of the trees above moving along the dark green hood as I got closer to my house. I just felt so damm proud finally driving my own car. Another big left and up the driveway we went. The guys were there too sitting on my front stoop, just watching. I guess word travels fast on my block. As I put it in park and started opening the drivers door to get out, Glen, Neil, and Pete opened up both back doors and got in. “Hey Lopez, what do you think you’re doing?” “Lets go for a ride” “I think Coney Island sounds good” “Don’t they have a Nathans there?”.

Well, from that day on the “Buick” became the car for the guys on the block. I cleaned her and polished all the scratches from her hood and fenders. I scrubbed the white walls and hung a cherry air freshener from the radio knob along with a disco ball from the rear view mirror. The “Buick” was nothing less than a Saturday night cruiser. We also had the latest in technology too, an 8-track and a CB, along with bowling balls in the trunk for a stable ride. But don’t read me wrong here, the “Buick” was also tough as a Hummer too. On one ill faded camping trip to Downsville NY, I drove her up our logging road on a Friday night. Too tired to carry all our backpacks and equipment, we just set up camp as an electrical fire from the starter motor almost sent her to “hubcap heaven”. But regardless the beat just went on and on for the Buick. Although sometimes it almost stopped for us as well.

One Sunday morning back in 1980 on the way to McCarren Park in the wasteland known as Williamsburg, we lost some valuable hockey equipment that was piled inside our hockey net strapped to the roof. I stupidly stopped the Buick on the other side of a curve, just East of the Brooklyn Bridge on the BQE. We almost became a newspaper headline that day, but thanks to an alert oil truck driver all we got was cursed at. And there were weddings, funerals and everything in-between for the Buick. All the time nourishing itself on an endless supply of Diehard batteries, alternators and tail pipes. Yes the late 70’s and 80’s were surely this dinosaurs heyday, but the "Ice Age" was coming soon. And the asteroid just hit the earth, and its name was “Monte Carlo”.

I don’t exactly remember how it happened but one day I woke up and the Buick just didn’t look the same anymore. She was looking old and worn out, her lacquer skin was cracking and peeling and the seats were all ripped. The 8-track was out dated and the cats sleeping in the back seats during cold weather wasn’t exactly impressive on a first date either. I tried my best to spruce her up with a new paint job and rubber mats. I even sealed up the hole in the floor so the cats couldn't get in anymore. But still, the feeling just wasn’t the same anymore. We were just growing apart.

So out came the automotive personals simply known as the “Buy Lines”. With other candidates being circled in red along with late night phone calls to “for sale by owners”. My quest for something young and new was making me restless. And all along she slept right outside my window, just leaking her tears of "Dextron transmission fluid" on the cold concrete floor. Unaware of my wandering feelings. Then one day I just saw her, the “Monte Carlo” of my dreams. With smooth lacquer paint, two perfect doors and a magnificent tail panel. I just couldn’t wait any more and had to do it. Well, it was another trip to the Greater on McDonald and 8,500 dollars less in my account. The cash was all I needed to bring her home from Seaford Long Island. And it was just a part of life you know.

I did try my best to keep them both, just bumper to bumper in my driveway. But the beauty of the new won over the memories of the old. And the insurance was too damm much anyway. A “Big Love” this was not, and the Buick had to leave. I tried hard not to get emotional when I took off the plates, just gently counting rotations as I backed off on the screws. Trying not to look into her GE headlights. But then without warning it suddenly all came back to me, the trip to Queens Village, the cigarette butts in the ashtray and the image of my uncle Frank sideswiping an Amish Buggy. The ride up my block, the trees reflecting on the hood, the guys watching me as I pulled up the driveway. No, I just couldn’t do it, No!
I reversed the rotation of the screws and put the plates back on.

I think I kept the Buick for a few more years and finally just gave it away to a friend at work in 1990. She tried to offer me money for it more than once. But you know, like they say. Some Brooklyn memories you can buy, while others remain priceless forever. And that 73 Buick was nothing less than “Priceless” to me, in the Brooklyn of my youth.

Ron Lopez

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Catskill Webcam today @ 12:25 pm

Yes, it is Fall in the Catskills, and about two weeks early.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mike the Greaser's old Home

Remember Mike the Greaser? Well, this is where his old store used to be back in the 80's. Looks a lot better now, huh?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Remembering Hockey Time on East Fourth

As you get older and travel through life, there are always certain things that remind you when you were a kid. For me it's the chill in the air that suddenly arrives around late September and October. Yes, the crisp air will always remind me of the days we spent playing roller hockey on my block or down at Avenue F. And going down to the PAL center on East 5th to pick up our jerseys  was also an event that happened around this time of year. All the guys, all the happy memories, many still here with us. While others are long gone. God bless Steve McNally, Inky, Drew Thomas and many others who have left us too soon. And don't forget that on October 3rd at 9 am down at Avenue F we'll make these guys crack up in heaven as that watch us try to 
play again.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Catskill Webcam Today @ 7 am with Two Deer!

A comment from Eileen Wilson

You know, my Dad used to drink wine with Frank. I loved and hated going in Franks house. I loved it because his wife was always cooking some good stuff and always made me sit and eat. I hated it because the backyard was always sooo dark, which was the reason I hated the o' callahans backyard. The apartment building next to the houses used to drown out any proof that the sun existed. I have good memories of that family. And ya know, my dad would give us a shot of homemade wine at dinner too. He said it was good for our blood. Hmmmmmmm. I was a very good sleeper.

Eileen Wilson

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Comment on a story about my cousin Frank...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "A Real Hard Hand":

I grew up along with Frank in Queens Village, NY. We became close friends early on in High School. It was Frank, Tom Bura and myself riding on the rear seat of the old Jamaica” A” bus in the wee hours of the morning as we started our daily commute to Middle Village. Frank could always make you laugh and never had a bad word about anyone. I have many found memories of our wild bus rides to and from High School.

On weekends we would hang out on the street corner and Frank was there when my future and present wife shared our first bottle of rum. Frank was the rebel of the crowd and loved the Rolling Stones when everyone liked the Beatles, he would like to dress wild just to shock people. God he could make you laugh.

He was quite the musician and could really play the piano, although all he wanted to play was his guitar like Keith Richards and Bill Wyman. He even tried to teach me the drums one week in his basement ‘studio”. Sadly we lost contact as adults and went our separate ways.

A while back I was very disappointed that he was unable to attend a High School reunion as he was truly the only person I cared to reunite with.

As I recall there was a note from him in California saying he was doing well and working in the wine business.

Well we all got a laugh, because as youths we always imagined Frank as music writer-producer or doing something in the pharmaceutical industry.

I see this great picture of him on this site and am amazed that he still had the same great smile. I’m very glad to hear he was so successful personally and professionally in California.

Although our time was short, Frank was a very positive force in my life and I will always regret never taking the time to reach out and reunite.

May God bless him, and his family.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Glass of Frank's Wine in Kensington

Frank Verbito lives across the street from me at 400 East 4th street. Frank bought the house way back in 1978 and has been a fixture on my block ever since. You may have seen him from time to time, he usually walks around shirtless during the summer and can usually be found doing concrete work on the block.

Frank is very proud to have worked on the construction of the World Trade Center too, especially the original “bath tub” that survived much of the destruction on 9/11.
If there was anything that would have survived that day, it would have been Frank’s concrete. Because concrete is Frank’s specialty you know, and he takes pride in his work.

Now besides concrete, Frank also loves to work on the garden in front of his house, and from time to time he makes homemade wine from the grapes he grows right here on East 4th street. You see Frank was born in Italy and lived on a farm, so anything plant or wine related, Frank has a real knack for. And especially homemade wine, let me tell you.

I remember it was a hot summer night back in about 1992. I was in between marriages and did a lot of hanging around on the block at night. And much of the “hanging around” usually took place in my garage, or my friend Mario’s a few doors away. Either working on my car or one of Mario’s, just passing some time until the next day. I guess you can say it was my form of “therapy”, and it probably saved me a lot of money on "dead end" dating too.

Now, that night I was using a hand held sledgehammer for something, it looks kind of like a hammer except the head is about the size of a can of corn. Maybe it weighed about four or five pounds too. A real swell tool for pounding the hell out of a engine pulley when you don’t have a date on a Friday night.

So here comes Frank from across the street with a
big glass of homemade wine in his hand.

“Hey a Ronnie, come on anda hava soma wine”.
“Its gooda and will make you sleepa tonight”.

I looked at the glass, it was about
twelve ounces and was filled to the top.

“Come on Ronnie trya”.

So I took the glass from Frank and took a sip.

Forget anything you can buy at Walgreen’s,
this stuff was real alcohol. No, nothing they'd
serve at "Picket Fences", this stuff was deadly!

Well, before you knew it I finished the entire glass,
and not thinking much about it I continued to pound
the hell out of the engine pulley I was working on.

Just “bam” “bam” “bam”,
iron to iron, steel to steel.
Real manly stuff that
gets your hands dirty.

And it was all going so well
until a silly little thumb
got in the way.

Now, you ever see one of those old cartoons when someone hits their thumb with a hammer. You know, the thumb swells up real fast and turns a real dark purple. Real funny stuff, right?

So there I am pounding the pulley with the sledge hammer, and then “POW”, my silly little thump gets hit. I pull it out of the engine compartment and show it to Mario, we both can’t stop laughing because it’s just like in a cartoon. Except instead of the “Coyote” in Roadrunner, it’s Ronnie Lopez from East 4th. And my thumb is real and not owned by “Warner Brothers”.

Frank’s wine was in full effect,
I hit my little thumb; It was all very hilarious,
and yes I went straight to sleep.

Now Saturday morning was a real different story.
No wine from Frank and no silly visions of a cartoon in my head.
No, my thumb hurt like hell and was swollen to the size of a golf ball. And no, it was not very funny anymore, and I used about a bag of ice to kill the pain.

And today some sixteen years later I still have a little purple mark under my fingernail. A constant reminder of a Friday night in Kensington, and a glass of Frank’s wine, and learning the hard way that a hand held sledge hammer just didn’t mix well with both.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grand Union and the Giraffe

"Hey mom, what year was it again when I lost my rubber giraffe over at Grand Union"?

"You know Ronnie, that must have been about 1960, because you were three years old at the time, and never let go of that thing". “You just carried it everywhere”.

Yes, my little rubber giraffe.
I remember chewing it on a daily basis. I’m sure it was chock full of lead paint, and probably gave me some kind of twitch or “involuntary movement” later in life. Or even worse, was the reason why I never made it to any of the “sp” or “gifted” classes that you call them today.

Yes, my little yellow and brown giraffe would be one of those toys you’d see on the 10 O’clock news at night. Just blame it for everything that goes wrong, even if you did forget to do your homework and study.

Now, this story is a real, real, old one. In fact it's so old,
I can hardly even remember it at all.
Hey, give me a break, I was only three when it happened!

For those of us who lived in Kensington for a while, the new “Foodtown” on McDonald and Albemarle Road was once the “Grand Union”. The Grand Union was the biggest Supermarket in Kensington and certainly dwarfed anything on Church Avenue at the time.
So when my mom had to really go shopping, she plopped me in my stroller and rolled me about three quarters of a mile to the Grand Union. And of course I would never leave home “without it”,
and that “it” being my little lead based giraffe.

Now the funny thing about the Grand Union is that it was almost identical to the Foodtown before they did the renovation.
The hotdogs were in the same exact place, along with the steak and chicken. They never really moved anything, that store was basically the same layout for 50 years or so. Which of course always gave me the opportunity to tell my son or wife the story about my
little giraffe.

“Hey Andres, you see where these steaks are?
When I was three years old I left my little rubber giraffe here”.
“And no one has ever seen it since”.

Yes, through my foggy memory I remember holding the giraffe and leaning over in the shopping cart by the steak. I was holding the damn thing in my left hand and reaching for something.
And yes, I do remember actually putting down the giraffe with the steaks. Why the hell did I do that?
Oh right, it was the lead paint I must have been chewing.

Well, when we got home from Grand Union that afternoon, guess what I was missing? My mom searched through all her bags and it was nowhere to be found. She even called the store and spoke to the manager, or at least that’s what she told me.

“Oh, a lost and found, I’ll be right over”.

And now, this is what they call “mother’s love”. My mom actually walked all the way back to Grand Union to look for my giraffe.
And sadly returned empty handed.

I was devastated, my little rubber giraffe was gone forever.
I certainly lost the "lead" of my life.
The year was 1960, and it was never the same without "it".

Today was the first time that I have been in the newly renovated Foodtown. I was shocked to see that they actually moved everything in the store around, including where the meats have always been.
My wife has been telling me about it for weeks now, and I must say they are doing a wonderful job. The store really looks great, it's like shopping in the suburbs!

And as I left the store I couldn't help but remember my little rubber giraffe. Thinking that someone may have found it behind the meat compartment while they were renovating the store. Just a half chewed faded yellow and brown rubber toy, sitting in the same dark spot for forty-seven years. With it's two litte eyes just staring into space, and always wondering what ever happened in the "Grand Union" that day back in 1960, when it was left behind.

Ron Lopez

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catskill Webcam 6:30 am today

Once again it's raining in the Catskills,
but at least the pond's filling up.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PS 130

This morning I had to laugh when I read the story about these two guys that climbed the new Times building across form the Port Authority. They basically climbed a metal ladder that wraps around that building, because that’s how it was designed. They say it’s to save on air conditioning, but let me tell you I’d rather pay Con Ed a few more bucks a month. Because the whole design is quite hiddious, and looks like someone got the blueprints backwards.
But that’s just my opinion you know.

Yeah, two guys scaling the outside of a building that basically has a permanent ladder attached to it. No big deal is all I say.

Because you see, back in about 1975 there was little Shawn Gorman and the PS 130 chimney. And the story about what Shawn did that morning never made the headlines, because no one really saw what he did except us. And we knew better than to call the police.

The PS 130 school yard used to be a heck of a lot bigger than it is now. Before the board of education decided to ruin our roller hockey court with more classrooms. Oh, did I say board of education, pardon me, it must be my age. Because "DOE" just sounds like something my grandfather used to hunt for in the Catskills during November.
But then again that’s just my opinion you know.

It was just another Sunday morning in Windsor Terrace and there we were as usual using the PS 130 schoolyard as our practice court for roller hockey. I know we used to annoy the poor people that owned the house right behind the schoolyard too. Many a hockey puck deflected off my goalie stick and hit the side of their house, including their windows. I guess the couple that lived there weren’t big hockey fans, they always kept our pucks and cursed at us too. And on a Sunday morning no less, what nerve!

The Gorman’s were a big bunch and usually joined in on our Sunday morning games at the school yard on East 5th and Fort Hamilton. I think they lived somewhere off Church Avenue on the other side of Coney Island Avenue going towards Flatbush. They may have lived above a store too, but I really can’t recall.

Now with all due respect, the Gorman boys were great hockey players. But I think things may have not been perfect once they got home, if you know what I'm saying.

And Shawn, one of the youngest Gorman boys, was a sweet looking kid with red hair and freckles who looked like he just walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except he cursed like a sailor and was always doing these crazy dangerous things to impress his older brothers, and today would be no different.

So there I am in all my goalie equipment waiting for the next puck to be shot. Out of the corner of my eye I see Shawn climbing the side of the school, with his skates on no less. I think it may have been where the auditorium was, it was only one story high and used to stick out from the back of the school facing East 5th.

He somehow climbs up to the top of that structure and then makes a beeline straight to the brick chimney on the side of the school. Now if you ever noticed the chimney of PS 130 it has these insets that almost look like steps. They are about one or two feet away from each other and go all the way up to the top. So Shawn gently places the toe stop of his skates on each step, and wraps his arms around the side of the bricks and starts to slowly scale his way up.

We all start screaming for him to get down including his older brothers who were skating with us.

Well, before you know it Shawn is almost to the top of the brick chimney, with nothing holding him except his nerve. He finally makes it to the summit and then just sits on the top. Like a red headed bird on a flagpole, there was little Shawn Gorman way up in the sky, just giving his brothers the finger, and still wearing his roller skates.

After about fifteen minutes Shawn decided to come down, scaling the side of the chimney in the same manor that he scaled it up in. One skate after the other with both arms wrapped around the bricks until he got to the ground.

Once he was on the pavement his older brothers gave him hell.
And Shawn being Shawn just laughed as they were punching him.
Just another day in the life of little Shawn Gorman trying to impress the world.

The other day we were walking home from Prospect Park and passed by PS 130. I told my wife and son about how little Shawn Gorman scaled up the side of the school with roller skates and nothing holding him except his nerve. I think they may have chalked it up to another “tall tale” of my childhood in Brooklyn.

But let me tell you, somewhere there’s a forty five year old man named Shawn Gorman. And I’m sure he remembers what the view looked like from the sky, high above Windsor Terrace on a warm Sunday morning back in 1975, while still wearing his roller skates.

Ron Lopez