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.