The connection to the Catskills runs very deep for me, even before I was born we have been going up there. And up until this day I am fortunate enough to walk the same land I did as a child holding my mother's hand. Yes, for my cousin Pete, Denise and I, we still have all our childhood memories right there near Downsville, New York. Over 200 acres of virgin forest land with just two houses on it. Eighteen dollars an acre is what it cost back in the early 50's, not a bad deaI for my grandfather I guess.
And back in 2003 I was fortunate enough to have my own house built not far from my childhood home right over the ridge.
Oh, and technology you have to love it, because last year I installed a Webcam right in our window upstairs. So every day from Kensington Brooklyn I get to see whats going on 150 miles away on the mountain.
So thats the story of the Catskills and the connection to Kensington where I still live. Oh, and buy the way, it's usually 10-15 degrees colder up there than our warm and balmy Kensington.
Remember the clock you would always look at before you ran down the subway steps at Church Avenue? Or maybe the same clock you'd check before the next show at the Beverly? Well, after what must seem like centuries for many of us who grew up here, the clock is finally gone. Replaced by an "Astoria Savings" logo which covers the entire face. Now, I'm hoping, and I just say "hoping" that the good people at Astoria sent it to Germany or Switzerland to get it repaired. And maybe one day it will return to it's full glory mounted above the doorway at the old Greater New York Savings Bank that we all fondly remember.
I'm also hoping that the F-Express returns and they'll tear down the PS 230 Annex and rebuild the Beverly. How about the return of Ebingers and NE Tells? And on top of that they'll bring back the OTB or the Citibank that used to be there. Hey, how about a bunch of Jewish Deli's?, a sporting goods store?, Lee's?, Kenny's, Izzy and Bennies? And how about a full head of thick brown hair for me?
Yeah, I guess I'm just dreaming, but at least we still have Dennys, the Buzzarama, and great memories as well.
They find a reason to complain or whine all the time. And it can be for just about anything whatsoever.
The other morning while I was in the bagel store, there was a woman who had to “point” to the exact plain bagel that she wanted toasted. Ok, you have about two dozen plain bagels; they all look exactly the same. Exactly the same I tell you.
“No, I want that one, I want that one”
The guy behind the counter had to go through at least eight or nine bagels before he got it right, while the woman was steaming because he didn’t pick the right one the first time.
And of course being the rude, impatient, “stroke seeker” she was, she didn’t even say “thank you” after she got her order. She just walked out cursing under her breath.
So the parade of “schmucks” continued that morning. As soon as she left, the next guy in front of me has to get all exasperated about the most minor minutia. His bagel’s butter, the proper corn muffin, and the fact that one of the guys didn’t have change for a twenty-dollar bill.
“Don’t forget to say thank you,” I said as the jerk walked out the door while cursing under his breath too.
“How do you deal with people like this all day?” I said to the guy behind the counter.
“I don’t let them bother me, I just think about my wife and children in Mexico, and try to smile, and besides everyone is different, and there's nothing you can do”
You know what, he’s a better man than me, because I just couldn’t deal with jerks like that all day. No, I’d take my hockey stick and my six three, two-ten pound body and crosscheck them right into the glass in front of the store. Then I’d make sure to “accidentally” kick them in the head before skating to the penalty box.
“That’s five minutes for intent to injure for number 31 Ron Lopez” “And a game misconduct for not obeying your wife”
“A game misconduct for not obeying your wife?” “But she’s not even here?”
“Well, you didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher this morning before you went to the bagel store, and the laundry is still sitting in the washing machine for two days now”
So I skate to the penalty box, slam the door, spit on the ice and threaten the fans behind me.
Ok, sorry, I think I’m getting angry here too.
But you see what these people do to the rest of us “good, normal people.” They even manage to piss me off, and I’m a real calm guy you know. Because nothing really bothers me, and I really mean that.
Well, not exactly everything.
Did I ever tell you the story about a car that parked in my driveway back in 1978? I backed up my 73 Buick and took out his side door, and then I put the Buick back inside the driveway and took the subway to the city.
“You mean you damaged his car because he parked in your driveway?”
“I’m from Brooklyn, what do you want?”
“People just can’t park in your driveway, that’s like someone hitting on your wife or girlfriend”.
“Well, I don’t see your point, and I think it borders on the “picking the right bagel” syndrome. Even if you think it’s something different”.
“ I don’t get it, a bagel and a driveway are two different things. One’s flat, while the other’s round and can fit in a toaster when you slice it in two”.
“That’s exactly correct Mister Lopez, just like living in Brooklyn, everyone is different”.
Some are impatient, Some are annoying, Some are angry, Some whine, Some complain.
Yeah, I guess the guy that works in the bagel store was right after all.
Yes, everyone is different, and there's nothing you can do”
Well, someone once told me something I always remember, after you're long gone, how will you be remembered.
Thats something I always think about and value, because that's what really matters.
The lights above the Beverly marquee chattered away that night, “clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack”. Like some old F-train heading up the elevated way down McDonald Avenue late at night, the sound of the yellow bulbs turning on and off was almost mesmerizing, and sounding very much like the subway train when it climbed up that steep hill of iron rails headed up to Ditmas Avenue.
With a bitter Winter’s wind blowing from the direction of Fourteenth Avenue, the marquee just stood there, holding it’s own against the coldest January wind that Kensington has seen in years. Yes, like some old soldier made of steel, plastic, and one foot high red Helvetica letters. The mighty marquee of the Beverly never once cared what Mother Nature blew its way.
“Clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack”.
This was Kensington Brooklyn 1969, and yes I remember it well.
My first cousin Frank died this past December, he was only 58 at the time. Some friends of his held a memorial service out in California this past weekend. One of his friends Scott Millare read my story from last month. I was deeply touched that he read it and felt sad that I was not there for the memorial. Frank Cutrona was indeed a "Son of Brooklyn" and grew up not far from Kensington and Windsor Terrace in Sunset Park. Below is the email Scott wrote to me.
My name is Scott Millare and I worked along side your cousin Frank Cutrona here in Southern California for the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Although Frank and I worked together for only a year and a half, we became close as he always called me his "Hawaiian Brother". We always talked about he and I smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of wine on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii where I grew up, on the north side in a place called Waipio Valley.
I wanted to let you know that while googling Frank's name on the web, I came upon your website and the blog that you wrote about your first cousin Frank on 12/13/09. It was an insight to a different side of Frank that a lot of us on the West Coast had not been privy to. It was a great read!
I was at the hospital with his daughters while he was still on life support. The girls had this lost look that will be embedded in my mind for a while....
We just had a memorial service this past Saturday for Frank. It was a great gathering of family, friends, former Brown Foreman co-workers, past buyers who Frank called on, and other people within the restaurant and wine industry who had come to love and cherish his friendship. It had been storming with floods and high winds the 3 previous days leading up to that Saturday. When I arrived, you could tell it was a special day, because now it was beautiful and sunny and we were right on the water at the Surf & Sand Hotel overlooking the ocean at Laguna Beach. The setting couldn't have been more serene and perfect!
Laura, Heather and Sarah had someone else read their prepared speeches for they obviously would've had a tough time conversing. There were about 4 other people who spoke after that. As the last spokesperson was thanking everyone for coming, I hesitated then made my way to the microphone and asked everyone if I could read something to them. I told them I arrived wearing my Hawaiian shirt because Frank would've been pissed if I was wearing anything else. I explained that I was his Hawaiian brother and said a few words in Hawaiian and translated to them..............and then I proceeded to read your blog from that day to give everyone a sense of where Frank came from. All 3 girls thanked me for reading that for they had no idea I was going to do so.
So I just wanted to let you know that you were with us on that day my brother, and all who heard loved your story. We even managed to get everyone smiling when the part came around about you getting very familiar with the grout in the bathroom on the second floor! God bless!
Jim McMullen’s Bar was a pretty hot spot back in 70’s on the Upper East Side. The place always seemed to attract models, movie stars and professional athletes.
“Mr. McMullen is best known as the convivial owner of Jim McMullen's, a steakhouse that had one of the Upper East Side's archetypal swinging singles bars in the 1970's. Back when Reggie Jackson was beginning his evenings being showered with candy bars at Yankee Stadium, he was ending them with his pals at Jim McMullen's.”
Now I never knew Jim McMullen Jr. myself because he was older than the rest of us, but sometimes we’d get a glimpse of his Red Corvette that he drove up the block and parked in by his parent’s house.
The girls would always seem to giggle when he drove by, and some of them would run up to his car to get a better look of him and his pretty blonde hair.
You see mister McMullen’s son Jim was a professional model and did all kinds of TV commercials back when we were growing up. He may have even been in a movie or TV show too, but we never really knew or even seemed to care that much. Because when you’re a “guy” and the girls that you have crushes on run away from you to see Jim McMullen Jr., well, you just kind of resent him that’s all.
But not his dad mister McMullen, because mister McMullen was a sweet old man that worked for the buildings department and drove a city car. No, the girls weren’t running after his Dodge Dart with a NYC Department of Buildings logo on the side. No, we could deal with that. And if I remember correctly Peter and Nuzio Competiello used to walk the McMullen's dog Sam all the time, and Sam was kind of overweight for a Beagle and the girls never giggled when he walked by or made poop in the street.
Oh, Ok, Ok, maybe we were all a little jealous back then of pretty Jim with his blonde hair and his fancy red Corvette, while we were riding ten speeds and had pimples. But come on, how would you like it if a girl ran off while you were in mid-sentence to chase a guy? Not a real confidence booster huh?
Well time has passed and it’s all pretty funny now, and from what I hear McMullen’s closed a long time ago and is no longer there.
But you know what, just as that place exists in the memories of all those celebrities, models and professional athletes who used to go there back in the 70's. I bet you there's a guy named Jim McMullen who maybe still remembers the Brooklyn of his youth, and a street he grew up on. A street that he may remember, that was called East Fourth.
Like a bullet the black puck was coming right towards my head. You could hear the whizzing sound as it cut through the ice-cold Kensington air. I jerked my head to the side as it whistled by my left ear. I thought I felt something hit me, but it must have just been the breeze from the ice-cold “Scotch 88” puck. BAMM! It hit the boards right behind my goal, and deflected towards the corner.
My left shoulder started to feel unusually warm, but I paid little attention to it. No, there were players in the corner jamming for the puck along with Randy Reis from the Blackhawk’s standing right in front of me, ready to take a centering pass and snap it past my frozen goalie stick and body.
Well, before you knew it Bill Webster (the referee) blew his whistle and stopped the game. He quickly skated over to the player’s bench and grabbed a white towel.
And then to my surprise started skating right towards me.
“Ronnie, Ronnie, get on the ground, get on the ground”
Not knowing why, I just got down on one knee and waited for Bill to reach me.
He took the towel and placed it hard against my left ear. As Bill moved the white towel back and forth over my ear I saw the bright red blood that was making everyone’s face on the bench turn a pale shade of white.
“Ronnie, you’re bleeding, you’re bleeding bad”.
“From where Bill, I can’t feel a thing, my ears are totally frozen”
Well, after a couple of minutes of defrosting, my earlobe started to sting a little, yeah that puck did kind of cut it open pretty bad. But hell, we got a game to play so just tape the damn thing up and lets get going.
So there I was playing the rest of the game with a chunk of cotton and white hospital tape on my left earlobe. Just looking kind of funny when I was trying to be oh so cool.
You know when the air was ice cold in Kensington back in the 70’s we never thought about staying inside where it was warm and cozy. No, we were either down at the hockey court by Avenue F or right on our own block puffing white smoke from our mouths as we played the game we loved so much. Either getting cut by pucks without even knowing it because my ears were frozen numb or having a huge icicle hanging off the bottom of my goalie mask from my sweat.
And the rest of the guys "suffered" too, with frozen toes and hands they never complained. No, they just laughed and played the game they loved so much, and probably never knew it was cold anyway.
Ok, so yesterday I get an email about our 35th High School Reunion. And thats ok because I really loved my high school. But why the hell does Classmates.com have to use pictures of some twenty-something girls in the photo. This is a thirty fifth year reunion folks, most everyone has grey hair and must be way over fifty. Hey, I'll give you a hint, they look kind of like me, and thats pretty scary!!!!
My best educational experience by far was the time I spent at Art and Design High School back in the mid-seventies. This school totally blew away PS 179, Ditmas and Baruch when it came to me "loving school". And the teachers that all taught there were real top notch, including Mister Greenberg my water color teacher. I was very sad to hear of his recent passing, and the world is sure down one great artist.
Well, it's been a long Winter so far and my mind has gone blank. If anyone has any stories they would like to share please email them to me at: Mopar195@yahoo.com. Don't worry about spelling or grammer, because I certainly don't!
The blower motor in Robert Brennan’s Plymouth Fury was on full force. With hot air blowing like a hurricane on my snow-covered boots, the heat of the Fury did little to defrost my feet and toes. No, once again my boots felt like two blocks of ice, and it would certainly be a while before they’d feel warm again.
“Let me show you how she rides Ronnie, this ones real heavy duty”
With that Robert put the Plymouth Fury into gear and stomped on the gas. The huge 440 four barrel suddenly came alive and moaned a loud throaty sound. With the rear wheels trying desperately to grip the cold frozen asphalt, the Fury started to wildly squeal and fishtail in front of my house. I just held on to the dashboard for dear life until the Plymouth finally found its way and started rocketing up the block in a straight line.
“I told you she’s heavy duty” “I told you”
The Plymouth barreled up East Fourth at about fifty-five miles an hour and then suddenly screeched to a stop at the corner of Avenue C. The little air freshener pine tree that Robert loved so much swung crazily from the radio knob.
“And she stops on a dime too”
“ Robert, she started skidding about six houses back?”
“Don’t worry kid, she’s seen all kinds of action”
Now Robert Brennan was one of my best friends from the block, and for some reason he always liked to buy old worn out police cars at the city auctions up by Willis Point. And because Bobby was a couple years older than the rest of the guys, he was the first to own his own car. And when you can’t drive what you don’t have yet, you just get into anything your friends are driving, no matter what.
And for my cousin Pete and I, it was a 1970 Plymouth that Bobby drove around all the time. A retired New York City undercover police car that drove like a tank and flew like a rocket.
“How about a trip to White Castle Ronnie?”
Oh God, that freaking White Castle up on Fort Hamilton Parkway. The place had bulletproof glass where you ordered, white tiled walls and floors, and the most horrible looking stainless steel tables and seats. And to top it off, it was always filled with the scariest looking people Brooklyn ever produced. Just a perpetual “freak show” that made any thing over in Coney Island look like kids stuff. Just shoot me and preform the autopsy on one of those stainless steel tables, but just don't forget to clean up the blood.
Oh, and they also had an armed guard inside the place, just standing in the corner with a black handgun in his holster. A real nice place to take the kids for a night out in Boro Park.
“ Robert why do we have to go there?” “Why not the new Burger King over on Dahill Road?” “One day we’re going to get killed over at White Castle”
“Ronnie, there’s nothing to fear, you got me and we have the “car”
Now because we drove around in an old unmarked police car, the truth is everyone thought we were cops. Including all the freaks over at White Castle who looked like they just got out of the Brooklyn House of Detention.
Even the security guard who worked there used to salute us. So when it came to feeling safe, I guess there was nothing better than driving an old police car and looking like a bunch of undercover cops.
And Robert, well he stood at six feet five inches and bigger than a bear. Yeah, I never felt tall or big around Robert, no not even at six feet three and two hundred pounds.
Robert always seemed like an older brother to me too, and in many ways reminded me a lot of my brother Joseph who passed away just a few years before Bobby became one of my best friends. He was loud like my brother, he sometimes bossed me around like my brother. And he always had the last word like my brother. Yeah, maybe a friendship that would never work for others, but somehow oddly worked wonders for me.
Yes Robert filled the void that was left after my brother died, and I certainly loved being around him all the time. But most important, I always felt safe around Bobby no matter what.
We made the left on to Fort Hamilton and drove past the brand new Burger King on Dahill road. I could see the blue and white logo of White Castle way in the distance by Forty-second Street in Boro Park.
“Oh God, that freaking place again Bobby?”
“Don’t worry kid, you’ve got me and we got the car”
Robert made a hard right into the parking lot of the White Castle. And as usual the place was chock full of “hard nighters” and the scariest residents of Brooklyn. The Plymouth made an abrupt stop against the concrete slab by the front tires. Once again the little fragrant pine tree swung wildly on the radio knob. Robert shut off the now hot 440 engine, my feet were finally warm.
“You ready for action?” “I guess so, lets do it” We both opened the door and walked into White Castle. Just another night in Brooklyn, the year was 1973.
The other day I was in an auto store with my son, we were standing by the counter when I happened to notice one of those little green pine tree air fresheners. I picked it up and threw it on the counter with the rest of my stuff.
"Dad who's that for?"
"It's for an old friend son, it's for a very old friend"
The candy store was no larger than your cubicle at work, or at least it seemed that small. It was right next to Dennys on the McDonald Avenue side off Church Avenue, just a few feet from the subway entrance. It may be a Bangladeshi hairdresser place now.
The two guys that ran it were simply known to us as “Izzy and Benny”. They may have even been brothers, but we never really asked them. Izzy was the older of the two; he was rather skinny with salt and pepper hair. He usually wore a baseball cap, no matter what the season. Benny was shorter and a little heavy; he had red hair and green eyes and always wore a “cab drivers” cap.
The inside of the store had a black and white linoleum tiled floor. The magazines and comics were directly to the left as you walked in. A small counter was to the right. It had chrome edges with a red Formica top. There were also about four stools by the counter where one could sit to get a quick bite to eat.
Izzy was usually there during the day, while Benny did the night shift. It was one of the few places where you could still buy a “Vanilla Egg Cream” all the way into the 1980’s. It was also one of the few candy stores where you were timed on how long you could read a magazine. And I’m sure being 16 years old didn’t help with the clock either.
“Hey Boys, come on, this isn’t a library, if you want to read go to the library, I heard they just built a new one on East 5th and Fort Hamilton". We usually heard this verse from either Izzy or Benny, and it really didn’t matter if you finished you egg cream or not. No, it was strictly business at Izzy and Benny's.
Izzy and Benny also had more than one thing in common. Besides running the store together, they must have shared a tragic past. Both men had numbers tattooed on their forearms and were Holocaust survivors.
Just sitting by that little glass window, sliding it open to collect your change for the morning paper. The numbers usually appeared from under their shirt sleeves when either one reached for your quarter. A quick smile and “thank you” and the numbers once again hid out of sight. It just seemed like they wanted to keep them hidden anyway.
I guess in some ways they both watched me grow up too. From the days I held my Moms hand as she walked me down the subway entrance by their store, to a six foot three longhaired teenager being told to find that new library up on East 5th.
“Why you all dressed up, a date?” “No Izzy I’m working in Manhattan now”. “Well, save your first dollar, and tape it to the wall like this”. Izzy pointed up to an old dollar bill above the grill. It was yellowed from cooking grease. “Why, a hair cut too?” “Yeah, sometimes things change you know” I said.
This morning, almost 35 years later I stopped by the store that was once known as Izzy and Benny's. I looked at the former site of the simple little newsstand. There inside the store were two or three barber chairs where the counter used to be, and a long wooden bench where the magazines racks were. Through the glass I could see the owner cleaning up and getting ready for the new day.
And you know what, I’m sure his simple barbershop will be the memory of some grown man someday. Thinking about someone he once knew when he was a kid. There will be a dollar taped on the wall, and talk of someone’s first day at work.
“Yeah Izzy, sometimes things change you know” I smiled and said goodbye and headed for the train.
“Hey, mister, can I help you?” There standing by the barbershop was the owner. “Can I help you with something?” I just looked at him and said, “you already have, you already have”.
After about a month the Catskill Webcam is back up. It took a weekend trip up here to reboot the camera and modem. And of you notice the tracks in the snow we're getting our use out of Mother Nature and the foot of snow that's still here.
This morning when I woke up the first person I thought about was my brother-in-law Ralph. I imagined what waking up today must be like for him, thinking that you're living through some kind of nightmare or bad movie. I imagined what he must be feeling knowing that his mom, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins are all living thousands of miles away from him in a country that just suffered one of it’s greatest tragedies in hundreds of years.
Ralph is a wonderful brother-in-law and I can only hope and pray that his family is safe in Haiti. According to Ralph they are all accounted for, but the worries don’t stop there. The lack of an infrastructure along with the concern of civil disobedience are some of Ralph’s biggest worries, along with the fact that his family’s homeland is badly broken.
If you want to make a difference donate something to the Red Cross, or maybe just say a prayer for all those people down there who are actually waking up to a nightmare every day, while we just “imagine” what it must be like.
"Thanks for checking it out Ron. When my Dad died in 1982 we sold the house. It's a four-family my grandfather built in the late 20s along with others like it on the block. He went broke in the Depression but managed to hold on to #25. As for that plaque? I pried it off the brick when the place got sold and it's in my garage out here in NJ right now. Just looking at it brings back such warm memories of my childhood. In so many ways folks like you keep those memories alive and for that I thank you".
Hey Mark, Although it's not an 80's picture, it's still the house. And thanks for the kind words.
Remember the "character" on your block when you were growing up. Well, we all had one, and most of the time they were older than us. And in no way am I saying that the "character" was a clown or someone to laugh at. No, they could have been someone you looked up to or even taught you your first curse word.
Now on my block the were many characters, from Bobby Wilson to Sam Goldfeather. They were people we saw every day, either hanging out on their porch or walking up the block drunk with a cane. They could have been Jewish, Irish, Black, Italian, just about any race, shape or size. But what made them a "character" was usually what they said and what we learned from them.
Yeah, sitting around him on the stoop late at night, or leaning against a fence on East Fourth listening to all his war stories about growing up in Brooklyn. And the stories were all interesting and made you laugh, because otherwise you wouldn't be there listening. Or maybe you looked for the "character" every time you went to Izzy and Bennies candy store on McDonald Avenue. Someone who may have been smoking a cigar and wearing sunglasses at night time, and cursing at you as their own special way of greeting you.
"Hey you F_ _ king A_ _ hole where da hell have you been?"
Never getting mad when the character cursed at you, because you knew he actually loved you, and his cursing was just his way of letting you know that.
And today I'm very worried about our kids and the lack of characters. This world we live in has gotten so bland and soul-less, maybe it's this political correctness bullshit thats turning everyone into a pussy. I don't know, but I feel sorry for all these young people who have no "character" in their lives. No one to listen to telling stories on the stoop, no one to call them a F_ _king A_ _ hole as a form of greeting in some candy store on McDonald Avenue.
A real shame I tell you, a real damn shame.
Yes, the "character", we all had one when we were growing up. And I'd like you to tell me about the "character" you remembered when you lived in Kensington. Because I don't know if it's me, but I just don't feel we have enough of them today. And that makes me sad, because someday my kids may need someone to learn a real good curse word from.
I was able to snatch these old photo's from the "Property Shark" website. Paid 69 bucks and now I'll be able to get an old photo of every building in Brooklyn. Most of them seem to be from the early 80's, and it's going to be fun let me tell you!!
If you send me your old address, I'll post your house picture.
I learned how to roller skate on the block (Ocean Parkway between Church and Beverly) when I was very young. We wore the metal clamp-on skates which you tightened with a key worn on a lanyard around your neck so it didn't get lost. I had a dedicated pair of saddle shoes just for skating. We would skate on Ocean Parkway and then around the block on East 5th street. This street was a rocky road as the tree roots had lifted up the blocks of pavement in many places.
My friends and I discovered the Park Circle Roller Rink which, compared to street skating, was a little bit of heaven. Imagine smooth, shiny wooden boards and "indoor" skates which you could rent each time for a very small fee. None of us owned our own skates (just like none of us owned our own bowling shoes), we were too poor to buy them.
You could spend the entire afternoon on Saturday at the rink, hanging with friends and skating as much as you wanted. There were special skating designations which were shown on a board as you went around, such as couples, males only, females only, reverse direction and such. There were no light shows or disco songs as this was the late '50's and early '60's when I was in junior high and high school. When I went to the rink, I would dream of becoming a roller-derby skater one day. This didn't work out for me; but I still dream about it!