The memories are faint and hard to recall. When I picture them it’s like watching an old black and white movie. I remember walking next to him and looking at the belt he wore, I remember holding his hand as we would walk up to Church and inside one of the small newsstands that dotted the Avenue.
There was one in particular that I recall, it was where the tiny shoe store is across from Golden Farm. It had a tiny counter and a few chrome plated stools. They were round at the top and you could spin them around. The tops of the stools were padded with either a black or dark red vinyl. When my dad waited for his change I would gently spin the seat tops while peering under the counter for a glimpse of the hundreds of pieces of dried gum people left behind.
“Hey Dad can I see the Camel?”
My father would usually hand me the pack of cigarettes to look at. I remember staring at the Camel with the two columns on each side of it. Back then there was no surgeon generals warning on the pack, so a kid could look at it without a parent fearing a question about why you smoke. My father would gently tug me out the door and we would start our journey back down East 4th to our house.
The trips to the candy stores or newsstands as we call them today were fairly frequent for my Dad. You see my father smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day,and filter-less of course. The news stand next to the bank and the jewelry store was another destination for my Dad and I. I think it’s the only original news stand that I can still remember from the early 60’s. Sometimes my Dad would buy Chesterfield’s, he would always let me look at the pack which I closely studied of course. And sometimes on the way home we would stop by the Beverly Theater to see what was playing. The marquee always cast a huge shadow with it’s lights blinking like a Coney Island arcade. There was a long wide entrance which lead into the theater. It gently sloped up to old time wooden and glass doors. You could always see the concession stand from the sidewalk too, it was probably where the counter is for the “T-Mobile store”. And no matter what time of day it was or even if the place was closed you could always smell popcorn in the entrance way.
By the time we would reach East 2nd street my Dad would be puffing away. Billowing smoke like an incinerator from the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway, out of his mouth, out of his nose and sometimes looking like his ears too. My father was always off to work too, and no matter what time of the day it was. And of course, he had to finish his cigarette before he left the house.
“Your father works like a donkey”
That’s all I heard my grandfather Paco say about his son.
“Education is what will make you succeed in life”. “Your father refused an education and look at him now”
I guess my grandfather was talking about college, because my Dad did go to High School. John Jay in Park Slope. But then again, I never knew if he ever graduated.
My Dad worked two jobs and sometimes three, he worked in a restaurant called McPherson’s down by Trinity Place in Manhattan by day, and by night at the Trinity Place post office as a “part timer”. He also did catering work on weekends and even co-owned a coffee shop at sone time on Vanderbilt right off Atlantic. So I didn’t see my Dad much, and if I did he was usually sleeping between jobs on a Lazy Boy in the living room. For my brother and I there was no catch in front of the house and there was no playing tag at Greenwood Park. And we knew better not to even ask my father.
One day when my brother and I came home from PS 179 we heard my mom on the phone crying to her sister. We looked in their bedroom and my father was lying in the bed, he was crying too. In those days no one told a little kid what was going on and you dare not even ask. All I heard from my mom was; “Daddy's not feeling well and won't be going to work for a while".
You see it all started my father was offered a full time position at the Trinity Place Post Office. There was a routine physical he was ordered to take before he could become a full-time employee. Problems breathing were followed by X-rays. A "spot on his lung" was detected and before you knew it there were tests followed by more tests. Doctors in those days didn't "beat around the bush" like today. Dr. Weisel on Plaza street in Prospect Heights told my Dad straight to his face that he would be "dead in three months".
My Dad refused chemo, but did opt to have one lung removed, and I will always remember that scar. It went from his chest all the way around his back, it just looked like train tracks around a mountain through the eyes of a kid. But hey, at least he was home for my brother and I, and that's all that really mattered to us.
Eventually though death did arrive, and on August 24th 1965 at the age of thirty-nine, my Father died. Just about three months after he was told he would, leaving a seven, nine and two year old without a father.
Oh sure, I know there are old photos of my brother and I together with my Dad building a snowman in our back yard at 399. There are also ones taken upstate at our country house with me on his shoulders. But the truth is nothing sticks in my mind more than those simple walks to Church Avenue holding my Dads hand, and smelling stale popcorn by the Beverly.
For there are no photos of those times, but just the memories of a seven year old boy who barely knew his father.
These WebCam shots were taken just a few minutes ago. In Brooklyn we have a wet snow that's starting to stick, in the Catskills by our house upstate we already got 18 inches since yesterday according to my neighbor. They are expecting over 30 inches of snow up on the mountain before it's all over sometime this weekend.
Back when I was a kid growing up in Kensington you rarely saw a parent taking a kid on the subway at eight in the morning. And if you did, is was probably for a doctor’s visit down on Clinton Street, or a day off to see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. No, no trains here, we just walked up our block and made the right on Avenue C. Our loyal institution of learning was just that close, and that was “too close”.
Oh, public school 179, how I hated seeing you from my front window each and every day. With your two gigantic smoke stacks rising high in the sky there was no way I could miss you, even on the weekends. And on those dark winter mornings you were there too, the classroom lights just turning on before my little blue eyes. Flick, flick, flick, “yes we’re open for business”, “see you soon!”. Oh, and lets not forget to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” an hour and a half before we said it again in class. There was that little tiny figure again standing on the roof of the school, raising the “Stars and Stripes” on that tall white flag pole.
Sometimes I even used my binoculars to see if it was one of my teachers trying to send me a message. But my best instincts told me it was just the maintenance man. Forget Pre-school, Pre-K, or Special-K, it was kindergarten when you were five years old and nothing else.
“Pete let go of the pole”.
My cousin Pete and brother Joseph were the first to fall victim to the giant “Monster of Grout” on Avenue C. But Pete’s first day had to be the most memorable. There he was just holding on to the dark green enamel pole in the gym for dear life. My Aunt Dolores and Uncle Pete trying to un-lock his tiny arms that were wrapped tightly around it.
“No, no, no, I’m not going, noooooooo!”
At some point according to history my Uncle lifted my cousin up by his "Buster Browns" and held him horizontally trying to pull him off the pole. My cousin did loose a valiant battle that day, his little hands succumbing to the strength of two massive adults. But not before he scratched off some lead based paint from the green pole.
And me? well I had a whole year to absorb all the horror stories about your “first day”, and the nightmare called “kindergarten”. The strange kids, the white paste, ice cream sticks, and the dreaded colored construction paper. Yes, my “Castle of my discontentment” was right there before me, and I saw it every day.
And forget any “gifted programs” at 179 back in 1963; no, you were just ranked by your class number. The low digits meant you were smart, i.e.; 4-1, 4-2. While the high numbers meant you better start learning how to mix concrete, because you weren’t going to law school any time soon. But kindergarten was still a mixed bag, where they proudly paired the lawyers and the plumbers of tomorrow all in the same room.
“Hey kid, do you have any “Pez Candy?”
“What do you mean?”.
“Lopezzzzz, Pez Candy, Lopezzzzz!”.
And that’s when I started to cry. My first day of kindergarten and I was already being mocked. I tried to stay calm but then suddenly I felt rage building inside of me, just wanting to glue that kids face with some construction paper and white paste.
“Ronnie, just remember the first day is always the hardest”,
I could hear my mom's voice from deep inside my head, she always calmed me down when I was about get angry.
So I put down the glue and just walked away.
Well, the days turned to weeks, the weeks to months, the months to years. Junior High, High School, College. And the days at P.S. 179 just became a distant memory of my childhood.
It’s strange but I still see the giant smoke stacks of P.S. 179 from my front window, and my son passes it almost every day on his way to school in Bay Ridge. I wish going to school for him was as easy as it was when I was a kid. Just a walk up the block and then a right on Avenue C. But that’s just another story for another day.
But maybe some things really don’t change; every September when school starts my son Andres gets very nervous about the new school year. I just try to remind him that “the first day is always the hardest” and if he ever gets mad, just “put down the glue and walk away”.
The truth is my "Castle of Discontentment" actually became my "Castle of Enchantment". And I still smile like I did in my kindergarten class photo each and every day when I pass P.S. 179, never forgetting my first day. (I am second row, second from left)
"And on Easy Street, the kids got jobs early on to help pay our own way. We knew name brand sneakers like Converse or Pro-Keds were a stretch for a blue collar pay check so if we wanted something nice...we paid our own way. We shoveled walkways, walked a neighbor's dog and made deliveries for local retailers or mixed an egg cream or two. We got that work ethic from our Moms and Dads.
When we were in college, we continued to work, to help pay for books and maybe a beer or two.
On Easy Street we knew how to have fun too. Roller hockey, stickball, ultimate frisbee, scully, Johnny-on-the-Pony. Games that were a gauntlet, that helped make us the adults we became. No play-dates with hovering parents, you had to make your own way on Easy Street, which wasn't always easy but it was always fun."
Easy Street was the smoothest, widest blocks around when I was growing up in Brooklyn. And all the cars that parked on it had the biggest of tail fins and shiniest chrome bumpers ever made. With names like Chrysler, Dodge, Pontiac and American Motors, the tin monsters that lined its path left little room for anything else. And especially anything that wasn’t made here in America.
The fathers who all lived on Easy Street were real blue collar fellows you know. They were plumbers, oil truck drivers, postal workers and carpenters. They were transit workers, steel workers and laborers. They were real tough guys who would sometimes get into fistfights if someone touched their kid or scratched their car.
No don’t you challenge a dad from Easy Street, because you’ll probably loose.
Now the mothers who lived on Easy Street, well they never had to work you see. And there was no reason to, because back when I was a kid, all it took was a blue collar paycheck every couple of weeks to pay the rent and feed the kids. Maybe even go on vacation to the Catskills or buy a new car every few years.
No, in the Kensington and Windsor Terrace of the 60’s we never even knew what a baby sitter was. That’s because we always had our grandmother or grandfather to watch us anyway, just in case our parents wanted to be alone.
Struggle you ask? Yeah I’m sure we struggled. But at least we didn’t have to worry about dragging our kids on the train every morning to go to school. No, when you lived on Easy Street all you had to do was walk around the corner and get a good education at PS 179 or PS 230. Oh, and our parents, well the most involved they got with school was when they waved goodbye in the morning when we left. That’s because when you lived on Easy Street you never had to worry about school. Because that was the teacher’s job, not yours.
What about a "track" so we didn't end up with a "blue collar" around our necks too like our parents. Well, we all did go to college you know, but not Harvard or Yale. No, we went to Pace, Baruch, Brooklyn and even NYU. Traveling on the subway every morning and then having dinner with our parents at night. No, the kids from Easy Street didn't have to go "away" to college. No most of us just stayed home. But if we did go away to college, I bet you our parents didn't have to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay for it. No, back in our days we just took out student loans and paid them back on our own.
And don't you question what Easy Street made, because I'll have one of my best friends "sue" you for harassment or perform your colonoscopy when he's angry.
Oh, but don't worry Easy Street did produce some guys to put that track back in order after your train derails. No we weren't just about being white collar you know.
So what happened to Easy Street?, well, it’s somewhere around you know. In the old photographs that I look at and the dreams that I sometimes have. In a Brooklyn that I knew so long ago when Easy Street was just about "Every Street".
I was very moved by a story my next door neighbor Rob told me yesterday. About a month ago an old woman rang his doorbell on a Saturday afternoon. His immediate thought was that she was a friend of his elderly tenant below him Mrs. Klein, and probably just rang the wrong doorbell.
“Hello my name is Mary Boyle, and I’m so sorry to bother you. But I just wanted to let you know that I actually grew up in this house as a child”.
“This is 403 East Fourth street?”
“It certainly is” said Rob.
“You know I haven’t been back here in over fifty years”. “The block still looks beautiful and your house looks so wonderful”.
“Would you like to come inside and see your old apartment, it’s really not a bother” said Rob.
“Oh, that would be a dream come true".
With that Rob helped her up the stairs and into his apartment on the second floor.
Rob told me that the she just cried and cried as she walked from room to room.
It was an extremely emotional experience for her and even Rob who walked by her side.
The old woman told Rob about East Fourth street and Kensington back in the 30’s and 40’s. About what it looked like before the big apartment houses were built on Beverly Road. She remembered a wonderful Church Avenue, and so many people that grew up on our block.
Tears just streamed down her face the whole time, because for this moment she was a child again, and back in the home she remembered so long ago.
Rob was moved by her stories and even asked her if she knew the Lopez family next door at 399 East Fourth.
“Oh, sure I knew them, I believe they bought the house sometime in the late 1940’s. They were very nice people”.
Rob wasn’t sure if it was the elderly woman’s family or maybe just a cab that waited for her out front. Because after the old woman was done, she just got inside a black Lincoln Town Car and drove away.
I wish I was there to meet this woman, but I must have been away for the weekend. For I would have loved to hear her stories about a Kensington, and a Brooklyn that was here so many years before me.
Oh, well, I guess there’s always next time. Because I'm still waiting for the Gordens and the Marcus's who grew up in my house.
I think Joe Mirada’s pet store was somewhere way down Church Avenue near 36th street. And from what I remember as a kid, the place was a very, very long walk from East Fourth.
A small, smelly pet store that may have been in “Gods Country” for a reason you know, far removed from all the grocery stores and fruit stores that lined the heart of our Church Avenue. And for anyone who grew up in Kensington, the “Heart” of Church Avenue was anywhere between McDonald Avenue and Ocean Parkway.
So here was this pet store way the hell down Church Avenue and almost in Boro Park. Yeah, maybe because it smelled so much the rest of the merchants told old Joe Mirada to stay as far away as possible.
But still when you’re a kid you’re going to find a pet store no matter where it is.
And even if it's practically in Boro Park
“Hey Joey, did you hear that Joe Mirada’s selling hamsters for a dollar?”
I remember that day quite well; I was playing on my front porch with my cousin Pete, my brother Joseph and Johnny Reilly from the Margaret Court across the street.
“Here, take a look at the one Kevin and I just bought”
There inside a cardboard milk container with the top sliced off was this small brown looking thing that looked something like a rat. It seemed to be sniffing around with barely any room to turn it’s little body in the confines of the sour smelling Borden’s milk carton. There was also a bed of shredded paper underneath it as well; it’s tiny teeth just chewing away at the remains of yesterday’s Daily News.
“So guys, what do you think?” “There only a dollar and Joe Mirada said he just has a a few left”.
Now when I was growing up my older brother always made the “corporate” decisions, not me. And maybe it was because he was almost two years older than me, I don’t know. So when it came to things like when we were going to ride our bikes, or roll tires down our driveway and hit a car, it was always Joseph who made the decisions.
“Ronnie, go upstairs and see if mom can give you a dollar, tell her it’s for ice cream from Morris. But DO NOT tell her it’s because we want to buy a hamster. You understand?
“But Joey, you know mom hates mice”
“It’s not a mouse you idiot, it’s a hamster”.
“Now just go upstairs and ask mommy for a dollar”
Well, I asked my mom for a dollar, came back downstairs and we were on our way to Joe Mirada’s pet store. I remember it was a very hot summer’s day as we rode our bikes there. A caravan of bicycles on two wheels and training wheels, making their way down the hot gum dotted sidewalks of Church Avenue to the “End of the Earth”. Well, almost Boro Park, but that might as well have been the end of the earth to us.
“Oh I see we have more customers, I bet you kids are here for the hamsters right?”
Now from what I remember Joe Mirada was this short little Italian man who always wore checkered shirts. The store like I mentioned earlier smelled to high heaven, and given it was a hot summer’s day in Kensington Brooklyn, the smell today was worse than it usually was.
Joe Mirada stuck his hand inside a cage and pulled out this little brown thing that looked something like a rat. He quickly put it inside another Borden’s quart milk container and handed it to my brother Joseph.
“Here you go kid, that will be one dollar”
My brother handed Joe Mirada the dollar, and in return Joseph was handed a smelly Borden’s milk container with something inside of it that looked very much like a rat. I was sure my mom was going to have a fit when she saw it. But I would never tell my brother, because it was his decision to buy it. And that was that.
So we got on our bikes and slowly moved Eastward towards East Fourth. Spoke wheels, and solid silver wheels just spinning away until we finally made it back to the concrete confines of our front porch with our little hamster and the smelly milk carton.
Now, we may have even been trying to play with it somehow, I can’t quite remember. And just like Johnny Reilly’s hamster, it had the hardest time trying to turn its little body inside the bottom of the empty quart of milk barely able to move.
"Hey Joey, see if it wants to play with this stick"
Johnny Reilly handed my brother a small twig from our front bushes and he threw it into the carton.
The hamster just looked at it and did nothing.
"Oh well, maybe it's tired"
But then suddenly we saw our mom walking up the block, and unlike my brother, I knew it was all going to be over real soon.
“What are you boys doing with those milk containers?” “Is there something inside”?
Now this is one of those moments you always remember and tell your kids about.
My mom slowly leaning over to look inside the carton, and then her loud blood curdling screams.
I think my mother’s screams could be heard all the way from Church Avenue on that warm summer’s day. The hamster just spun in circles at the bottom of the carton as she screamed and screamed. The milk container bellowing outwards at the bottom from the hamster's attempted escape.
You see I knew my mom hated mice, yet my brother wanted to buy the hamster and I was powerless.
“GET IT AWAY, GET IT AWAY!”
My brother Joseph put his hand over the top of the carton trying to shield the hamster from my mom’s screaming. Yet you can still hear it scurrying around in circles on top of it’s bed of shredded Daily News.
“But mom, it was only a dollar at Joe….”
“TAKE IT BACK NOW!!!!” “TAKE IT BACK NOW!!!!”
“I don’t want to see that thing in my house, you understand!”
Well, the rest is history folks, we went back to Joe Mirada’s and returned the hamster, and I’m sure he gave my brother the dollar back as well.
But I never dared to tell my brother "I told you so". Because he'd kick my ass you know.
Yes, Joe Mirada’s pet store, the hamster, and my mother’s screams. Just another day in the Kensington of my youth, so many years ago.
As I sat in my third grade classroom in PS 179 I could hear them roaring towards us. From my desk I could look out the window and see their long yellow roofs. They parked in front of the school entranceway on Avenue C. With their diesel engines just clattering away, I knew it was my time to go. On every Wednesday at 2 o’clock my stomach would start to hurt. It was time for the public school Christians to leave our sanctuary of bliss and head North up East 3rd street to The Immaculate Heart of Mary school. It was time for “Religious Instructions”.
As I gathered my books and headed out the door I looked back and said good bye to Miss Saltzman. She just smiled back at me looking as beautiful as ever in her white go go boots. As I started to walk down the battle ship gray stairs I really started to feel nauseas. But you see I wasn’t alone, about four other children followed me down. All of us silent, no words ever spoken. “Ronnie are you feeling OK” asked the school bus matron. A friend of my Mom’s whose name always escaped me. I tried to smile at her, but my lips always had a problem arcing up on the sides on a Wednesday afternoon. I always sat in the back of the bus too. Right under the “emergency exit” sign. Maybe hoping it would open up one day and I would just fall out. As the bus driver closed the doors, I closed my eyes.
The bustling clatter of the diesel engine got louder as we pulled away and made a left onto East 3rd street. The ride up East 3rd street was the greatest torture. Especially as we passed Church Avenue, because everything I loved was right outside the school bus window, almost within reach. Kennys Toy Store, Lee’s Toy Store and a brand new Pizzeria called “Korner”. All the places I loved to visit with my Mom, yet here I am sitting on a cold school bus seat heading towards my doom. Church Avenue just vanished in the distance behind me. The bus made a left on Fort Hamilton Parkway and gently stopped in front of IHM School. We all silently gathered our belongings and filed out the bus. At this point I would really start to dread them. With my stomach feeling worse I was hoping to start throwing up this time before we got inside. One of them opened a heavy red metal door, dressed only in black, she just stared at us through her little round eyeglasses, not saying a word. The public school heathens had just arrived.
We sat in the classroom, all silent. One of them stood in front of the chalk board, she too was dressed in black with something white around the top of her head. Some kind of hat. Right below her head was a large white disc that looked like it was sawed in two. She held a long wooden yardstick in her wrinkled old hand. She just stood there glaring at us. I could make out her bee bee eyes behind her glasses, they were dark blue. She started to speak, “Now who can tell me about Jesus......And then it happened like it always did. There she was standing in front of the class. She had to be the most beautiful teacher at 179. Miss Saltzman, with beautiful dark eyes and long silky black hair. She had to be a dream, because when she spoke to me I just melted. When I’m old enough I’m going to marry Miss Saltzman, my third grade teacher. And even when she handed me my test papers that usually scored no more than 65. I just stared at her beautiful milky white hands and then her beautiful face, then down her neck to her tight pink sweater and then at her two beautiful full......Wack!, Wack!, Wack!, the tip of the wooden yardstick slammed hard on my desk, just barely missing my little fingers and almost hitting my Timex Dumbo watch that my Mom just bought me for Christmas. “I said wake-up and pay attention young man!” “Don’t you care about Jesus?”
At that point I was too scared to look up at her, I could only stare at the cross that was hanging on her waist with some sad looking skinny man with a long beard nailed to it. “I said look at me when I speak to you!” Now she was screaming at the top of her lungs. “I said look at meeeeeeeeeee.........and that’s when it happened. Without warning it just burst from my stomach, hot and steamy, with little pieces of the hot dog I just had for lunch. And it was all over her black dress, with some of it hitting the little man on the cross. I had just vomited like so many times before, and the “nerve medicine” my Mom gave me every Wednesday morning failed to work, again. I just sat there frozen and she just stood there silent. “Now go to the boys room and clean yourself up”.
I got up from my desk, I could feel evey ones eyes staring at my back as I walked out the door and down to the Boys room. I tried my best to wash myself off and I must have been there for a while, because when I walked out I could see my Mom talking with the Nun outside the classroom. My little sister Isabel was there too, just sitting in her stroller staring at the Nun. We left early that day and as we walked along Fort Hamilton Parkway towards East 4th the Church bells started ringing.
“Mom do I have to go back?” “You know what you have to do Ronnie” is all my Mom said.
Well, I did somehow manage to survive “Religious Instructions” and even made my Communion and Conformation at IHM. All because I knew “What I had to do”, Something thats just in your blood when you’re from Brooklyn. But the truth is even today some 43 later, I still can’t help but feel a little nervous when I see a Nun. The memories of “Religious Instructions”, the bus rides and the vomiting just come back to me like a nightmare. Because you see, even at 50, Some Bad Habits” are just too hard to forget!
You know sometimes we all get caught up in a lot of what I feel is nonsense. And I'm guilty when it comes to it as much as the next guy. And it can be anything from the dishwasher not cleaning my dishes, to the kind of math that their teaching my son at school. Yeah, real problematic stuff that you should get sick to your stomach over, right?
Well, actually no, and it may just be time to re-focus and "count your blessings".
Are your kids healthy? Is there a roof over your head? Do you have enough food in the fridge? Did you make your kids laugh today?
I know it's real simple stuff here folks, but I guess I learned from my mom that it's important to sometimes re-focus and look at the more precious things in life rather than all the nonsense.
Yeah, I don't know, maybe it's because my mom was more concerned about my brother's screaming when they stuck that six inch long needle inside his bone rather than his homework. And worrying more about the results of his bone marrow tests rather than the result of his math test when he was eleven years old. Or maybe the fact that my dad was already in the ground for 13 years by the time he would have been my age, 52.
It's tough lessons that we sometimes learn, but it helps us when we have to re-focus and let go when it comes to bull shit.
Oh, and buy the way, I was a 75 average student, and my mom couldn't be happier as long as I was healthy.
So count your blessings folks, because it could always be worse.
So far this snow storm is a "bust", but at least I got a free day off from work. The last time Avon closed was something like 1992 when we had a "real" blizzard.
And those mountains you see upstate in Downsville? Well, I remember walking on the old logging road that we have on our property back in April of 2002. The snow was about up to my waist, and I'm six foot three, so thats high.
Oh, but no one ever complains about the snow up there, and you don't see any news trucks and reporters around talking about the end of the world in the form of pretty white snowflakes. No, the mice sleep under our apple tree deep in the ground, and the rest of the animals find places to rest burrowed far inside old hollow logs or small caverns on the side of the mountain.
All while the snow falls gently on the mountains, and the quiet of it all is sure beautiful.
Being a teacher in the New York City public school system must be one of the roughest jobs around, especially in middle school, or as we knew it “junior high school”.
Mister Spodek had a rough and ruddy complexion, red hair, and was somewhat stocky.
He also had a very short temper.
He was my seventh grade math teacher who's face would always turn the brightest red whenever the class “did it” to him. And the class “did it” to him practically every day, and especially when he turned his back to us.
“Ok, I’m going to draw an obtuse triangle on the blackboard, who can tell me the reason why we call it an obtuse triangle”.
As soon as Mister Spodek turned his back to us, and the white chalk started “clacking” on the green blackboard, it started.
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 might just be you.
I thought it would be funny using my 1975 Art and Design graduation picture, given the fact that my class just started this "1975 A & D Facebook" page. Our 35th reunion is this coming April and you know I'll be there. Hey, that red polyester jacket was something else, and boy did it itch like hell sometimes when I wore short sleeve shirts!
"Those are called Pandrol e clips. They allow the rail to flex as the train passes over each tie, there is a saddle or plate that goes under the rail that is screwed into the wood or lately concrete ties. They are superior to spikes because after a while the spikes are pulled up by the constant flexing, also these can be removed and reinstalled when rails are changed out".
Hey thanks Will, because every time I look at those things they remind me of the springs on my cylinder heads after I pull the valve covers off off my 440.
I may be retired by then, but because the MTA is replacing all the track on the express side from Church Avenue towards the City, I'm sure they have intentions to bring back the F-Express.
They are also replacing all the metal clamps that hold down the track with these weird looking spring loaded things. Now, I'm not an expert on this stuff, but from what I can figure these spring loaded clamps will probably cut down on the vibration of the express train as it travels under houses in Windsor Terrace and Park Slope. Something the MTA mentioned a while back that was holding up the return of the express train.
Heck, but even if I am retired by then, maybe my kids can use the same express that I did when I used to go to high school in the city. Or maybe even change the price tags on hockey sticks at Mays in downtown Brooklyn. Hey, wait a second, I don't think Mays is even around anymore, do you?
And any help by you subway buffs on what those spring loaded "track holder downers" are would really be appreciated.