His fingers, yes there was something so beautiful about his fingers. They were the longest and most gentle fingers you have ever seen.
And he stood like a giant too. He had legs that just seemed to go on forever, and arms that could reach as far as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Oh, his uniform, let me tell you about his uniform. It was always the brightest of white you know, and clean as a whistle. He also wore a little white hat too, it looked something like a ship captains hat.
And with long nicotine stained fingers as cold as ice and as yellow as corn, Morris would gently pick the change out of the palm of your hand and then lean down and give you your ice cream bar.
Yeah, just like the giant in “Gulliver’s Travels”, that was Morris.
I think he also wore one of those change machines on his belt too, it was silver and had these different cylinders for pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes.
You see, Morris was our ice cream man. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.
The bells on his truck had a very distinctive ring too. They jingled like those on Santa’s sleigh. Full of music, full of life. Nothing at all like the cheap sound of the Good Humor man. No, Morris’s bells were probably made of sterling silver instead of tin.
And what made Morris special to us was his kindness. Pure gentle kindness from a man who probably would have scared the living daylights out of anyone if he wasn’t dressed in an ice cream man’s uniform.
You see Morris had to stand about six feet five, was as skinny as a flagpole and chain-smoked to no end. From what I remember too, he smoked the same brand as my dad. That distinctive “Camel” could always be seen sticking out of his shirt pocket.
And Morris also died young, just like my dad. Too many “Camels” bought him a headstone way before his time, and only left us with a nasty Good Humor man who never liked us.
Yeah, I could just see him like it was yesterday, his truck parked on Avenue C between East 3rd and East 4th, long tall and lean standing there like a gentle giant. Waiting for us hand him our dimes and quarters after another day at PS 179.
And if you didn’t have enough money, Morris would let you slide and pay him another day. Or he would even break an ice pop in two pieces, if you only had a nickel. Just the gentle kindness of a man who drove an ice cream truck and knew all our names.
Yes, The ice cream man of Kensington. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.
I have known "Prophet Allen" for just about all my life here on East Fourth. And if my memory serves me right, the "Rev", as all us natives actually know him, moved here sometime in the mid-1960's from parts unknown.
With a bellowing laugh that could be heard all the way from Church Avenue, "the Prophet" is certainly a living legend of East Fourth, and probably all of Brooklyn as well. Wearing his signature "white" outfits, Prophet Allen can be seen almost every day of the year polishing his automobile of choice to perfection.
And they are usually white as well.
"You know Ron, a clean car means a clean mind"
Yes, I have heard these words mentioned to me many times in the past. And if my mini van is an indicator of how clean my mind is, then I'd probably be doing something very different right now than writing this blog. And I'm sure the "Prophet" would be praying for me right now and cleansing my soul of all its demons.
Yes, Prophet Allen, A living legend of East Fourth, and also a good friend of mine.
Liberals amuse me sometimes, they really do. And especially when they “DON’T” practice what they preach. And you know what I mean too, this whole “we love everyone” and “diversity is great isn’t it" stuff?
Yeah, preach, preach, preach, and then live in a world where everyone is just like you. Oh, and make sure your Fresh Direct truck makes that delivery while its diesel engine spews black smoke down Prospect Park West. Because the trees in Prospect Park are loving that soot along with the people who live on the ground floor. And make sure to put another "I love the environment" sticker on your Subaru, because your tailpipe smoke's making that one unreadable.
So here's a little story that somehow amuses me, and it's about "Liberal Failure" Kensington Style.
A couple of years ago this very “liberal” family moved to Kensington from Park Slope to experience the “wonderful” diversity of our neighborhood. You know, Muslims walking down Church Avenue with their Burka’s on, Orthodox Jews on East 3rd Street, Mexican day laborers hanging out on McDonald Avenue, and even some middle age Jewish drug dealers who I went to school with. Oh, and then us, your typical Spanish, Polish, Mexican, Irish, and Wasp mutts who I guess look “white” to someone from Park Slope.
Well, they moved into a great big house on our block and probably paid half as much for twice as much space. And of course a “Park Slope” liberal is going to love Kensington because it represents everything they “believe” in.
Oh right, believing in something and actually living “it” are two very different things you know, very different indeed.
Oh me you ask, am I liberal? Well, I voted for Obama and also Ronald Regan back in 1980. So I really can’t tell you, but then again I guess I “walk the walk” every day here in Kensington, so does that make me liberal or just tolerant.
So let’s get back to our friends here why don’t we.
Every day when this woman would see my wife she would only complain about Kensington and how “strange” the people were.
“You know you’re the only “normal” family on this block” she would tell my wife.
Translation: Normal means White
Did this woman not know that my wife’s nieces and nephews are African American. And one time my nephew Clay was thrown out of a store on 7th Avenue in Park Slope because the security guard thought he went to John Jay. And while he was being led out of the store, a bunch of “Park Slope” kids told him to “go home to Bed Stuy” because he didn’t belong there.
Yeah, I’m sure living in Park Slope helped them understand “diversity”. Especially when everyone is the “same” if you catch my drift.
I mean this Park Slope family was totally freaked out by Kensington; they absolutely hated it, and could not wait to move back to Park Slope to be with their "own kind".
Was it the “Rev”? Was it Mohammad next door? Was it the Orthodox Jews around the corner? Was it “white trash” me with my Plymouth Cuda? Was it Bob Brennan sitting on his front porch? Was it the Mexicans looking for work by Denny’s? Was it all the people who actually go to Denny’s? Was it my East Fourth Reunion last year?
“WE WANT OUT OF KENSINGTON” “THIS PLACE IS WEIRD” “THE PEOPLE ARE STRANGE”
I WANT TO GO BACK TO PARK SLOPE!!!!!!
Well folks, they did go back to Park Slope. Yes, they are now back with their own.
Oh, I know everyone is not the same; I mean I have some great liberals that live in my house right now. They moved from Park Slope and love the “diversity” of Kensington. They love the “Rev”, Mohammad, and even Bob Brennan.
But I just have to laugh when some people call themselves “Liberals” And then totally fall apart when they actually have to “walk the walk” in a place like Kensington.
And no, we are not “Normal” if you know what I mean.
Oh, and don’t hand me any kind of bullshit that “I wished” I lived in Park Slope, because my wife can swap her Fort Greene brownstone for a Park Slope brownstone any day of the week.
And besides, I was born there, and escaped a very long time ago.
Note: My better half did this some time back. She's the real "sharper knife" in the drawer. Ron
Since becoming a mother, I’ve had a number of break ups with other mothers. Not my fault, though, and I’m not the only one. Mothers are breaking up with each other all the time and it’s always over the same thing – Parenting.
We are constantly assessing each other; weighing-in on who’s right, who’s wrong and who’s insane. It sounds gutless and mean-spirited, but it’s really not. It’s just fear and confusion on all our parts.
We’re all terrified of failing as parents. Terrified of failing our kids and having to live with the consequences. Pick your nightmare: AIDS, Crystal Meth., Columbine, “Girls Gone Wild”, uselessness, hopelessness. . . It’s all grim.
If we’re right, our children will grow-up into happy, useful adults and, hopefully, move out of the house. If we’re wrong, we’re visiting them in rehab or jail trying to ignore the words MOM SUCKS tattooed down their knuckles.
And what compounds it all is the total confusion and uncertainty surrounding good parenting. There is no consensus anymore on how we should parent our children, (if there ever was). None. There are plenty of theories, oh yes, but no certainty that any of it is works.
So we cling to those mothers who agree with our parenting choices and who can reassure us that we’re doing the right thing. And we jettison those moms who parent their children differently and who, through no real fault of their own, challenge us and force us to question our own parenting. And who wants that?
So we break up.
My first break-up was pretty painless. It was with a mother who took parenting her three-year-old son very, very seriously. She had to. He was “gifted.”
Now. I’m not saying he wasn’t gifted. Maybe he was. It’s true, he could say blue in Spanish. But, he wasn’t exactly composing sonatas. I never saw him do long division. Still, I was happy for her to think her son was a genius. I secretly thought my three-year old son was a genius too.
The thing is, it was really stressful being around her. Every moment had to be a teachable moment; talk centered endlessly around her son and about the challenges of raising such an intelligent child; but worse, every now and then, she would inexplicably try to reassure me that I didn’t need to worry about my son. He would be fine, she would say. Every child is different and develops at his own pace. Not to worry.
Um. I’m not worried. And you, my friend, are a total loon.
Ok. I never actually said that to her, because I’m a big coward and other moms scare me, but I did break-up with her. And, as I said, it was painless. So painless, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even remember my name.
The one break-up that did hurt was with my normal friend - my super cool, beautiful, funny friend. The one who was just like me - clueless and overwhelmed and scared of all the other moms because they clearly knew what they were doing and we clearly did not.
I loved her! She was a total joy to be around. Everything about her life seemed to mesh perfectly with mine. We both had boys the same age. I was renovating my house. She was renovating her house. I was thinking about getting highlights. She was thinking about getting pregnant again. Perfect.
It was our parenting, though, that truly cemented our friendship. We agreed that we weren’t going to be angry, punitive parents – like our parents. We were going to raise our sons using positive reinforcement.
We were going to “catch” them doing something good and praise them with a love and an enthusiasm so warm, so nourishing, so heavenly that our boys would be inspired to do good all the time just so they could be rewarded again and again by our remarkable love.
That was the plan.
The trouble is, in between those moments of doing good, our boys were complete terrors - each in his own astonishing and delightful way.
My son was verbal and had no problem insulting anyone who crossed him – especially teachers or, sadly, me. By the time he was four-years-old, he had a whole arsenal of distressing insults at his command. My personal favorite -“hysterical hens from hell”- shocked his teachers and got him into a lot of trouble at school, but secretly impressed me. I mean that’s not a bad alliteration for a four-year old. But wrong! Very wrong.
My friend’s son was different. He was extremely sweet and never had a bad word for anyone. But when he was crossed, he would get physical - hitting, biting and breaking things in anger.
Needless to say, we were the two moms who were asked to stay after school and conference with the teachers. We nodded politely and earnestly as they suggested “strategies” and “coping skills” and possible “consequences” for our boys, but we always left unconverted.
Positive reinforcement might take longer to get results, we told each other, but in the end our boys would be less angry and happier men. Reason, love and praise were all that was needed to deal with this completely normal behavior.
But one afternoon, after a particularly bad outing with my son, I abandoned the faith completely and crossed over to the other side – the punitive, angry parent side.
I was in the drugstore, standing in a long line of people, and had just explained to my still four-year-old son that, no, I wasn’t going to buy him yet another packet of Pokemon cards, when he lost it. “You are such a loser freak, Mom! I hate you!”
An audible gasp rose from the line, and my scalp broke-out in a sweat. But, I didn’t cave. With all the love I could muster, I knelt down next to my son, looked him square in the eyes and told him he was being rude and hurting my feelings. He really needed to think about that and . . . But before I could finish, he shouted, “Shut-up, woman!”
More gasps from the crowd. More scalp sweat.
As I reached the counter to pay, the cashier – a middle-aged Bangladeshi woman who has since become my friend - said to me, “Don’t let him talk to you like that or he will grow up to be a very unhappy man.” Right.
As I think I’ve made pretty clear, I’m generally too fragile and insecure to accept unsolicited parenting advice from anyone. But for once, I wasn’t offended. I was actually relieved. It was as if for a brief moment I was in tune with the universe long enough to hear it say very clearly and lovingly, “Get a grip.”
And I did.
I took my screaming son home, sat him on a stool in the bathroom, went to his bedroom and proceeded to strip it, putting all his toys, videos, Pokemon cards, hot-wheel cars – everything! – away into the closet.
When I was done, his room was empty - except for his bed and dresser. Then I led my son to his room and sat him down on the bed. I told him he wasn’t ever going to talk to me like that again and he wasn’t going to see any of his toys until his behavior started to improve. Seriously. Then, I left him alone in his room, stunned.
And it worked. He was angry with me, oh yes, but he actually started to control himself and his language. Things at school improved.
Now. I’m not giving advice. I’m not. I’m still an insecure and clueless mom and I’m sure I’m going to have to deal with some kind of ugly backlash when my son is a teenager. So, wish me luck. I only mention it because, once I changed my parenting style, play dates with my friend and her son became impossible.
Inevitably, my son would end up punished, alone in his room, muttering something about me being the meanest mom in the world. Meanwhile, my friend’s son would still be bouncing a ball against my newly painted wall, completely ignoring his mother’s suggestions to “listen” and to “make the right choice.” It was miserable.
So were the silences between us. I just couldn’t engage anymore in our regular conversations, and I was too much of a coward (and I am a big, fat coward) to tell her the truth - how wrong I thought she was; how misguided her parenting now seemed to me.
So, I attempted a break-up, using the coward’s stand-by - the ol’ fade-away. I didn’t return phone calls. I made excuses to avoid play dates. Canceled others at the last minute. I did everything I could to avoid seeing or talking to her, hoping she would just get impatient and stop calling me.
What she did was confront me. What was going on? Was I avoiding her? Was I angry with her? What happened?
Normally, in these types of situations, I lie. Oh, yes. I do. If I think I‘m going to make someone angry with me or hurt their feelings I will lie – shamelessly - big, glorious lies. But this one time, I told the truth. And it was awful.
It wasn’t working! I blurted out. This whole positive reinforcement stuff was a load. Her son was out of control. She needed to stop talking so much to him and punish him. Give him consequences. Consequences, consequences, consequences!
In the middle my rant, I remembered why I don’t tell the truth – I’m no good at it.
After a long pause, my friend finally spoke. “I see,” she said. “Well. Good-bye, then,” and she hung-up the phone.
It was just a whisper, but that good-bye concussed me. Not only had I ended our friendship, I had hurt her feelings. I had insulted her son. And I had accused her of the one thing she feared most - failing as a mother.
I haven’t heard from her since.
Of all the break-ups in my life, of all the partings, hers is the one I regret most. The one I am most ashamed. There was no real reason why we couldn’t have been friends. If I had been a stronger person, a better friend, and a less insecure mom, I would have found a way to keep our friendship alive, despite our parenting differences. I acted like a coward, but this time it wasn’t cute or funny. It was gutless and, even, a little mean.
You know, maybe this is "Paradise" and I just can't see it. The word STORAGE is pretty and so is the Golden Arch. And if you look really close you can see some MTA worker sleeping on the job and collecting OT.
Oh and my apologies to the folks down on Union street, I meant to say Pacific Street, sorry. But then again didn't they use those street signs for some old train company?
You know I’ve kept quite silent on this whole Atlantic Yards project, because I know my wife and sister in law are “morally” against the whole idea. So at Sunday dinners in Fort Greene, or the dinner table right here in Kensington, I have basically kept my big Brooklyn mouth shut and just listened. And the reason is I actually want to see a professional arena built in Brooklyn. I mean Keyspan Park is great, and so is that Aviator complex down on Flatbush Avenue. But compare to anything else around those places are basically “little toys” in the real world of pro sports.
Now, don’t get me wrong folks, if someone told me that my house was going to be squashed to build something I don’t think I’d be that happy about it. And maybe I’d even walk around with a Bruce Ratner mask with little devil horns.
But the truth is that whole area down by Pacific Street is a big old rat hole. An ugly scab of a place where “hookers” made their living in the 70’s. So don’t try to sell me any bullshit about how beautiful that area is and how it’s going to be “destroyed” by a sports complex and housing. That area by the train yards is just a place to smash bottles and chase rats around. Because I still ride my bike right through it every day, so yes I see first hand how “wonderful” it is.
I mean one time these protesters were singing "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot". Didn't they know that they were stepping on used condoms and broken glass while they were singing? Boy, the silver tops of those LIRR cars below are sure pretty aren't they? And those steel tracks? Maybe there's something they see in those motorman signals that I don't? Oh no, it's the gravel between the rails that must be paradise. Oh stupid me, that's what it is, the gravel that smells like rat urine.
And guess what, I guarantee you that many of the little kids who live in Park Slope are going to want to go there and see a basketball game someday. And their protesting parents are just going to have to take them. Yeah, that’s the truth and you better get used to it.
Oh, and buy the way my brother in law works for Barclays, so maybe I'll get some free tickets someday.
And to the No Land Grab people, see you at the first game!
"Hey Ron. Enjoy reading your blog. I've lived in Kensington all my life, on Ocean Parkway and Ditmas Ave. I'm a couple of years older than you and the only name I recognize in your "circle" was Randy Brandeis and Jason Kerner. I was friends with Randy's older brother Robbie. I remember Randy was real good in basketball. And Jason Kerner. I knew both him and his brother Mark. Did you know our Neighborhood launched 2 big time Rock careers? One is Marky Ramone of the Ramones, who grew up right across the street from me on Ocean Parkway and Ditmas, as Marc Bell, along with his twin brother Fred. I knew them just enough to flip baseball cards with them, and didn't know until many, many year later who he became. And then there was Claude Schnell, who later went on to be in Dio, among other big rock groups of the early 80's LA Rock scene. I was in the same Junior High school class as Claude at Ditmas JHS 62 for a few years as well as at Erasmus Hall. Here's my class picture from 6th Grade at PS 179 in 1966. I was the kid in the red shirt, and the stupid string tie(remember those) front row, holding up the class sign"
Here's my Ditmas JHS 6 9th Grade Class picture from 1969. I wasn't in that day, but maybe some readers will remember some faces and/or names. Take care
You know those subjects you can’t bring up at the dinner table, the ones that get some people mad. No, were not talking about politics or religion here, it’s something worse. You see back in the summer of 1956 my grandmother and grandfather decided to take a stab at the big fat cash cow called “Church Avenue”.
Now, Church Avenue has always been excellent when it came to simple “foot traffic”, even back in the summer of 1956. Except for one slight problem according to my grandfather “Paco”. The more affluent people with money in their pockets simply made the left from the F-Train and walked along Church to Ocean Parkway. They never looked towards Dahill Road or even bothered to give it a second thought.
The name of my grandmothers store was “Isabel’s”; it was located at 90 Church Avenue. Basically the cash cows “tail”, which rarely moved to swat a fly no less.
My grandmother Isabel was always a working woman you see. And she usually held positions such as supervisor or “floor lady” wherever she worked. One of her specialties was hand-made lampshades, and she was proud of her position at Krasnours Lamp Shade Factory on Prince street in Manhattan. She was the floor lady there; basically supervising the workers to make sure the quality of the shades were up to standard. A job she held for many years until she decided to give her own business a shot one day.
So with the knowledge of Kensington and a “store for rent” sign at 90 Church, my grandparents took a plunge into owning their own business.
The grand opening was sometime in the summer of 1956. They sold custom-made silk lampshades, imported plates, crystal, porcelain figurines and various other “high end “ knick-knacks. The entire family worked there and helped to keep it a float. My mom, dad, aunt Dolores, and uncle Pete helping out my grandmother and grandfather any way they could. Making deliveries, working the register or taking the F-Train to Canal street to buy the lamp shade skeletons that gave them their shapes.
I always remember my grandfathers face getting red when he used to talk about “the store”.
“What a waste of money, we should have invested in another property instead”. “God damn store!”.
Now you have to remember that as kids growing up we only heard about “the store”, because it closed down before my cousins and I were even born. Although we knew something had happened once, there was an entire room in the basement full of lampshade skeletons, rolls of silk material, plates and porcelain figurines. And a wonderful large old-fashioned gold cash register in the garage. A huge monster that just sat in the corner gathering dust. As kids we used to play with it, pushing hard down on the buttons to make a metal numeral flip up in a glass window. Or just hide Matchbox or Hotwheels cars in the coin slots.
“There they go, never walking this way” said my grandfather Paco standing in front of the store at 90 Church Avenue.
“This side of Church Avenue is invisible, this store may as well be in the middle of the woods up in the country”.
“With all their money in their pockets, they just walk to their castles in the sky on Ocean Parkway”.
“The people that walk past this store are the working class poor, who only look and never buy”.
My grandmother just looked at my grandfather and said; “You mean just like us?”
My grandfather just shook his head and my grandmother just kept working away, cutting patterns and sewing the beautiful silk shades and hoping for a miracle. Because she always believed that those who worked hard survived, and they both survived the great depression right here in New York City. My grandfather Paco selling Good Humor ice cream off his back in Central Park and my grandmother making hand made silk flowers from their apartment on Pearl street in downtown Brooklyn. Now the site of Metrotech.
So there was going to be no giving up here, at least not without a fight.
I remember it was something like 1984 when we sold the cash register. I think my aunt listed it in the Buy Lines. And it must have weighed at least 100 pounds. My cousin Pete and I both helped the man carry it to his car. I think he gave us 25 dollars for it. He was opening up his own business somewhere here in Brooklyn, and he liked the old fashioned register. We tried selling the lampshade skeletons back in 1990, the man who looked at them thought they were beautiful, but the rust on them was too much and would only destroy the silk. When he was leaving we even offered them for free, he just smiled and said “no thanks”.
With rent being paid on time and little business coming in, the store closed about two years after it opened. There was no meat on this “cows tail”, and my grandfather Paco always had his reservations about that side of Church Avenue. And unfortunately he was right.
My Dads 1957 Plymouth station wagon pulled up in front of 90 Church Avenue that day. All the contents of the store were hauled to our house at 399. The inventory was split between my aunt’s old room, the basement and the garage.
A month later the store was for rent again.
The lamp shades made great props for parties when we wore them on our heads as teenagers. And not to mention there was always an endless supply of porcelain doll eyes for us to look into as kids, constantly worried that they would move, or blink.
I spoke to my aunt Dolores the other day, and she said the basic story about her mothers store could be summed up as “wrong place in the wrong time”. I laughed and told her that grandma would have made a killing in today’s Park Slope with a store like that. She said that grandma would have loved to open the store in Manhattan, but just couldn’t afford the rent.
But not all family stories have crash landings like “Isabel’s”. About ten years after my grandmothers store closed, her niece Dolores and husband Buzzy opened up another place you may have heard of. Its still called the “Buzzarama” and managed to survive over forty years on the “cows tail” of Church Avenue.
And my grandfather Paco, well he always believed real estate was your best bet and bought two hundred acres of land in upstate New York. Right before the store fiasco and just five years after he bought 399 East 4th. So “Isabel’s” was just a bump in the road, a bad decision, and a “wrong place at the wrong time”. Sure they lost money with the store and it made my grandfathers face turn red at the dinner table. But hell, that one hundred pound cash register was sure fun to play with along with those dozens of lampshades on New Years Eve.
And like they say, if you never try, you'll never know.
It looks like the next East Fourth Street Reunion will take place sometime towards the end of July. I am looking to do it on the same Saturday as the East Fourth Street Block Party. This way the street is closed and all you old guys could break a few bones while playing frisbee football. From what the folks told me down the block it looks like July 24th. But I will keep you all posted.
"Nothing like having fun times with teachers like Mr. Spodeck and Mr. Mohn (1969-1971).GREAT memories of Ditmas JHS days. Would you believe I even have just as many great memories at Ditmas now, being a Phys. Ed.teacher there for 32 Years. Love my job, love the children (Most anyway) and Thank God for my college classmate, partner in the gym and now my boss The wonderful " K-man" Mr. Kevorkian".
Wow, you know I was there those years! September 1969 thru June 1972.
There was once a bagel store on McDonald Avenue off the corner of Church many years ago. It was on the East side of the street about one or two stores before the apartment buildings just South of Dennys. It may have been called "McDonald Bagels". I remember going there as a kid with my Dad. It had old wooden floors that were usually covered with sawdust. There must have been at least three large stainless steel ovens in the place. And it was always hot in there any time of the day. Now, all they sold in the store was bagels and baileys. I don't even think they sold milk or soda until many years later. The guys that worked in there always looked like they just got out of the joint too, and most of the time they never wore any shirts at all. With sweat dripping from their faces in the summertime, you just closed your eyes when it landed on the bagels. Pretending not to see it, because they would probably kill you if you said something about it anyway. And the roaches in the store knew better too, mother nature teaches bugs to keep away from hot bagels, and the bagels in there were always hot. Yeah, on any Saturday night in Kensington it was the early edition New York Times followed by a trip to McDonald Bagels. In the days when a dozen gave you fourteen, the heat of the bag you carried home warmed both your heart and your soul all at the same time.
Today I learned from a very old friend that mobster Joey Gallo was actually a Kensington resident who grew up on East Fourth Street between Ditmas and Cortelyou Road. In fact Gallo once walked the same halls as I did at PS 179, and probably bought a "bullet bar" from Morris our ice cream man too. Gallo's father owned a coffee shop where Walgreen’s is now back in the 40’s and 50’s, and Joey was a fixture on McDonald Avenue and Church for quite some time.
Joey Gallo was Kensington's neighborhood "loan shark" too, and if you ever owed him any money, you better just pay up . Because Joey Gallo never believed in a "grace period", no, that was for banks and charge cards and not "tough guys" from East Fourth Street Brooklyn.
Here’s his Wikipedia Biography…
“Joseph "Joey" Gallo, also known as "Crazy Joe" and "Joe The Blond", (April 7, 1929 – April 7, 1972) was a New York City gangster, gunman, and racketeer of the Profaci crime family (later known as the Colombo crime family). Joey and his two brothers would initiate one of the bloodiest mob conflicts since the Castellammarese War of 1931. His brothers were Lawrence Gallo and Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo.”
Early years Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn to Neapolitan parents, Gallo earned his nickname in mafia circles as a hitman who, along with his brothers Larry and Albert, were believed to be responsible for the barbershop hit on Albert Anastasia. His two brothers, Lawrence and Albert, would later follow their older brother into the life of organized crime and align themselves with the Colombo crime family. Joseph is also the brother of Carmella Fiorello-Gallo. He is the father of Colombo crime family associate Aldo Gallo who was born to Jaffie on March 9, 1954 in New Hyde Park, New York and is alive as of 2007. He would follow his father into a career of organized crime, but not be as successful as his father or uncles. Joseph was a very colorful character and talkative by nature. In the 1950s he was nicknamed "Joey the Blond" because of his full head of blond hair. In 1947 after viewing the Richard Widmark film Kiss of Death Joseph began to mimic Widmark's film character, "Tommy Udo" with his drowsy, heavy-lidded appearance and in later years could recite long passages of the movie's dialogue. Joseph Gallo was married twice. He married, divorced and later remarried the woman only identified as Jeffie for the second time in July 1971. Little is known about Jeffie other than, "Though she [Jeffie] had yielded to Joey [Gallo] as the dominant partner in their marriage, it was a highly qualified surrender. She would abide by his decisions only if she approved of them. Mutual respect was her watchword, and if, on minor matters, she did sometimes give away against her better judgment, she would always make it clear to him that this was without prejudice." But after rekindling his first attempt at a failed marriage with Jeffie he began pursuing Sina Essary. He finally settled down and married in April 1972 to 29--year old Italian-American dental assistant, the former Mrs. Sina Essary who he had married a mere three weeks before his death in April 1972. The wedding ceremony was performed by the same priest who conducted the ceremony for musician Tiny Tim and Ada Jones. Joe's best man was his close friend David Steinberg. After being released from prison after ten years Sina would later comment about her first encounter with Gallo in 1971 saying he appeared, "extremely frail and pale. He looked like an old man. He was a bag of bones. You could see the remnants of what had been a strikingly handsome man in his youth. He had beautiful features-- beautiful nose, beautiful mouth and piercing blue eyes." After consummating his marriage to Sina, Joseph became the stepfather of Lisa Essary-Gallo, born c.a. 1962 who was ten years old at the time of her new stepfather's murder. Joseph's wife, stepdaughter and biological sister were all present and witnesses to his unsolved gangland slaying. Lisa Essary-Gallo became close friends to Joe's children who had been mothered by the unidentified "Jeffie Gallo". He secretly owned several nightclubs on Eighth Avenue and two sweat shops in the Manhattan garment district where he had forty or fifty girls make fabric for dress suits. He also ran floating dice and high-stake card games and extortion. Sometime in the early to late 1960s Gallo befriended African-American youths from the black-populated enclaves of Brooklyn, New York realizing that joining forces with the African-Americans, rather than by fighting them, there was a lot of money to be made. The idea of uniting the major African-American and Italian underworld leaders became an obsession with him which would be his life's credo. It would later be a philosophy that was later put in to practice by several fellow capos and mob bosses and led to building ties to other criminal organizations. While incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility Joseph took up the hobby of painting, trying to become a painter of water colors and broaden his considerable horizons in the legitimate employment field. He was an avid reader of Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Leon Tolstoy Ayn Rand, his literary role model and life icon Niccolò Machiavelli, and The New York Times. He had a philosophical outlook on life which was: if you're a cab driver, be the best cab driver in the world; if you're a gangster, be the best and do not settle for second rate. Donald Frankos would say, "Joe was articulate and excellent verbal skills being able to describe gouging a man's guts out with the same eloquent ease that he used when discussing classical literature". While he was incarcerated at Auburn with Donald Frankos he would tutor Donald on the principles of his hero Niccolò Machiavelli. Donald in turn taught Joe how to play bridge. While in jail, Joseph was an outsider among his fellow incarcerated Italian counterparts and was constantly seen with an entourage of African-Americans. In prison he worked as an elevator operator in the prison's woodworking shop. Gallo-Profaci war In the late 1950s, Gallo tried to overpower mafia boss Joseph Profaci to take control of the Profaci family. Gallo was helped in this war by his brothers Larry and Albert. Albert was himself nicknamed "Kid Blast". Due to Profaci's unpopularity with his men (he was seen as somewhat stingy and required constant tribute), the Gallos and their chief ally, Carmine Persico, believed they had a chance (Persico would later switch sides and rejoin the Profaci ranks). In May 1961, several gunmen tried and failed to kill Gallo. Profaci also placed his soldier, John Scimone, into the Gallo gang as a spy. Scimone set up the murder of Joseph "Joe Jelly" Gioelli, who was one of Gallo's top enforcers and biggest hitters. Profaci gunmen kidnapped Gioelli and took him out on Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn in a fishing boat. Once on the water, Gioelli was shot and dismembered. His clothing was stuffed with dead fish and thrown in front of an auto shop frequented by the Gallo gang. On August 20, 1961, brother Larry was lured to a meeting at the Sahara Lounge, a Brooklyn supper club. Once inside the club Profaci hitmen, reportedly including Carmine Persico who is suspected to have set it up and double crossed the Gallos, tried to strangle him. However, a police officer happened to walk inside the club and stop Larry's execution. The Gallos would later seek revenge on Carmine Persico, opening fire on his car. Although it failed to kill him, Persico was wounded in the arm and jaw. In 1961, Gallo was convicted of extortion and sent to prison for the next ten years. After Profaci died of cancer, underboss Joseph Magliocco was the new target of the Gallo revolt. Eventually Magliocco was forced to step down after the Mafia Commission discovered he was plotting against them. Attempted poisonings Joe was a very cunning and conniving man who would politely invite fellow convicts into his cell and attempt to poison them, most of the attempts were made with the use of strychnine, and one time nearly killed a fellow convict by offering him antipasto laced with the deadly chemical. A prison friend of Donald Frankos became aware of Gallo's poisoning methods and brought Joe poisoned lasagna, and at the same time Joe offered him anchovies marinated in strychnine. During a prison protest riot at Auburn Joe saved a severely wounded corrections officer. The corrections officer later testified in court after the riots and Joe was released early for his civic duty. After talking down to his incarcerated Italian Mafioso and standing up for some African-American convicts he earned the nickname "The Criminal" for his betrayal. After his release from prison he became a figure with great status among elite society, a "must attend" on many guest lists. Members of the "in crowd" wanted him to attend their dinner parties, and hung on his every remark as if he was royalty. His elevated status among the jet-set trend setters started when Jerry Orbach played a role in the movie The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, based on the novel by Jimmy Breslin in which the main character supposedly depicts Gallo. After he had dinner with Orbach and his wife Martam she would later comment that he had "absolutely" charmed her. Joe also became a close friend of actress Joan Hackett who found it amusing when he called her a "broad", comedian David Steinberg and the writer Peter Stone. The Gallo brothers did some work for Carlo Gambino and also had a close relationship with one of Vito Genovese's most powerful capodecinas, Anthony Strollo, until Genovese had him killed. Colombo murder Upon his release in 1971, Gallo started battling family boss Joe Colombo and the renamed Colombo family. Gallo was one of the first mafiosi to predict a shift of power in the Harlem rackets from the Italian mafia to African-American gangs. While in prison, Gallo had made numerous connections with African-American gang members such as Nicky Barnes. Gallo was allied with Carlo Gambino, who disliked all the publicity that Colombo garnered with his Italian-American League. Joe Colombo was shot on June 28, 1971 by an African-American gunman named Jerome Johnson. Johnson, who was immediately shot dead by Colombo's bodyguards, was believed to be a Gallo associate, thus shifting suspicion to Gallo. Death On April 7, 1972, Gallo was celebrating his 43rd birthday with friends including his bodyguard, Peter "Pete the Greek" Diapoulas at a restaurant, Umberto's Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street in Little Italy, Manhattan. At least two gunmen burst in the doors and opened fire with .32 and .38 caliber revolvers. Gallo was hit five times while he burst away from his table. Diapoulas was shot once in the hip during the melee. Joey stumbled into the street and collapsed while his killers sped away in a car. The gunmen were never positively identified. At his funeral, Gallo's sister cried over his coffin that "The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey!" As the Roman-Catholic church would later protest concerning the burial of slain Gambino crime family mob boss Paul Castellano later in 1985, Joe was refused a proper burial by the local parish priest. His widowed wife Sina arranged for a substitute priest to fly in from Cleveland to perform the ceremony. Informant Joe Luparelli later testified that Gallo's killers were Carmine DiBiase a.k.a. Sonny Pinto, and two brothers whom he knew only as Cisco and Benny. Luparelli also stated that mobster Phillip Gambino played a secondary role in the hit. Despite Luparelli's accusations, none of these men were ever charged with Gallo's killing. Pinto was sought, but never found, managing to evade police for over 30 years. A differing account of the murder was offered by hit-man and union activist Frank Sheeran in a series of confessions made before his 2003 death. Sheeran claimed that he was the lone triggerman in the Gallo hit. Distant relatives include Nicholas and Patrick Gallo. In popular culture
The 1969 novel and 1971 film The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight are a roman à clef of the life of Joey Gallo, whose fictional counterpart is played by actor Jerry Orbach in the film. Gallo and Orbach were longtime friends, with Orbach attending Gallo's funeral despite negative press. In the 1974 film The Godfather II, the character Frankie Pentangeli, played by Michael V. Gazzo, survives a strangulation attempt in a bar that is reminiscent of the attempted strangulation of Larry Gallo in the Sahara Lounge. Ironically, the Rosato brothers are most probably based on the Gallo brothers themselves, right down to their beef with the Corleone family i.e. Profaci family. In the 1990 film Godfather Part III, the character "Joey Zasa", played by actor Joe Mantegna, is based in part on Joey Gallo. Singer Iggy Pop's song "Play It Safe," from the album Soldier, includes the lyric "slippin' and slidin' like Joey Gallo." Joey Gallo is portrayed by actor Peter Boyle in Carlo Lizzani's 1974 film Crazy Joe. Joey Gallo is referenced in the 1990 film Goodfellas by Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, when he states "It was before Crazy Joe decided to take on a boss and start a war." In an episode of The Sopranos, Jon Favreau, playing himself, expresses an interest in producing a film based on Gallo. The album Desire by Bob Dylan includes a version of Gallo's life in the song "Joey." The lyrics are a collaboration with Jacques Levy. Gallo Crew members
Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo Frank "Punchy" Illiano Nicholas Bianco References
Brandt, Charles. I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran and the inside story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the last ride of Jimmy Hoffa. Steerforth Press, Hanover (NH, USA) 2004. (ISBN 1-58642-077-1) Hoffman, William, and Headley, Lake, Contract Killer: The Explosive Story of the Mafia's Most Notorious Hit Man Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos Thunder's Mouth Press (1992) Albanese, S. Jay Contemporary Issue in Organized Crime External links
Gallo article at americanmafia.com Death of Gallo at crimelibrary.com Joey Gallo at Find A Grave Former Umberto's Clam House at Google Maps http://www.nashvillescene.com/Stories/Cover_Story/2007/05/03/Married_to_the_Mob/ Categories: 1929 births | 1972 deaths | Italian-American mobsters | Americans convicted of murder | Murdered Italian-American mobsters | Colombo crime family | Unsolved murders | Burials at Green-Wood Cemetery | People from Brooklyn | American murder victims | People murdered in New York
Louie was standing outside Izzy and Bennies luncheonette near the corner of Church and McDonald Avenue. The smoke from his cigar blew gently into the Kensington sky. Like white snakes dancing a gentle waltz they only lasted a few seconds and then just vanished into the night.
Louie looked down McDonald towards Avenue C, the lights of another F-train could be seen far in the distance. The yellow headlamps of the train slowly moved out from the Ditmas Avenue station and downwards towards the tunnel opening near the Gel spice company.
Down, down, down, until they disappeared under the street.
Louie continued smoking his cigar and was now trying to blow smoke rings from his mouth. Out of his lips they came, but not the kind of rings Louie wanted. No they all had a break near the top of the circle. Probably the result of Louie’s mustache that was getting in the way.
“Ahh, fuckin rings!, why doin’t dese God damn tings woik?”
By now the rumble of the Manhattan bound F-Train was right below Louie’s feet. Not liking the feel of the sidewalk vibrating beneath his soles, Louie squashed the cigar against the red brick wall outside the luncheonette, leaving another tell tale black mark along with thousands of other cigars he squashed. He then made his way back inside and sat on his favorite chrome stool, his cup of warm coffee was still there untouched by the counter.
Now Louie was what us Brooklyn guys called a real Brooklyn “character”.
Louie was about fifty years old, stood no taller than five foot one, and combed his thinning black hair straight backwards. He also used some type of grease to slick his hair back, because it always looked shiny and never seemed to move. Louie always had a cigar sticking out of his mouth sideways too, sometimes the tip would be a glowing orange while at other times it was black and un-lit.
But what had to be the funniest thing about Louie was his thick Brooklyn accent. Louie had the thickest, deepest, Brooklyn accent you have ever heard. It was just so “Brooklyn” that it even amused us, a bunch of Brooklyn boys ourselves.
Louie also made Izzy and Bennies luncheonette his second home. He could usually be seen sitting on one of the chrome-plated stools by the counter with a cup of coffee and a small spiral notepad and pencil. Most of the time before he saw us walk in, he would usually be scribbling in his notepad unaware of anything around him.
Although we were probably too young or stupid to realize it at the time, by all accounts Louie was probably a good ol’ Brooklyn “bookie” and ran his “business” from the luncheonette on McDonald Avenue
“Hey, what chu guys doin here again?” “I tout I toll you’s to stay on East Fort?”
At that point we’d all start giggling because Louie was speaking “Brooklyn”
The language of our forefathers.
“Hey what you boys smiling at?” “Did I just say sumptin funny?”
At that point Louie would get off the stool and charge towards us like a raging bull. Well, actually a raging bunny, because Louie was a real sweet guy and was was always laughing when he saw us.
He especially liked my friend Glenn Gruder, and would sometimes show up at his hockey games down by Avenue F to cheer him on.
“Hey Glenn, you gonna score a goal for me today?” “Because if you don’t, I’m gonna kick your ass”.
Glenn would usually pat Louie on the shoulder and assure him he’ll score that goal.
“Don’t worry Lou, I got you covered, I got you covered”
After finishing our egg creams we’d all say good night to Louie at the candy store. Sometimes I’d look back and see him quickly immerse himself into his little notepad and start scribbling with his yellow pencil.
Just another night for Louie in Kensington Brooklyn. Just another night.
It’s been over twenty-five years since I last saw Louie, and the luncheonette once known as Izzy and Bennies is long gone too. Now some kind of nameless cell phone store on McDonald Avenue.
But the funny thing is there’s still all these black marks on the red bricks that used to surround the entrance to the candy store. And I can’t help but think that they’re the old burn marks from when Louie used to squash the tip of his cigar.
Just the “drawings” on a cave wall from a real Brooklyn guy. A real Brooklyn “character” that we simply knew as Louie.
For all of you that grew up here on East Fourth, this house was the long-time home of the Yanonne's. Rose, Jo-Anne, and James, or "Bubba" as we all knew him. It was also the home of Teresa and her family. A very well known home with a lot of rich history. Hey Bubba, got a few extra bucks? Because we'd all love you back on the block!
David and Russell Siegel had to be the two smartest and coolest kids at PS 179 back in the late 1960’s. While the rest of us were walking around with button down shirts, red bow ties and our hair short and slicked. The Siegel brothers wore tie die t-shirts, "earth shoes", and had long blonde wavy hair way past their shoulders. They were just a couple of “Park Slope” PS 321’ers way before their time. And their parents looked like real hippies too; with sandals and matching tie die t-shirts, they probably dragged the kids up to Woodstock back in 1969 in their Volkswagen bus they parked Avenue C.
Now, while the rest of us were mostly “low achievers” and branded by our high class numbers, 4-15, 5-15, 6-18, the Siegel’s were both “SP” students, which meant they were in the “smart kid” classes. These were always the 4-1, 5-1, 6-1, low digit classes. I guess in today’s world you would just call them the “gifted” classes that everyone wants their kids to be in.
Oh, God, maybe I was in “special ed” and never knew it?
And you know what? I don’t think the Siegel’s ever studied either. I never saw them reading or doing homework, and when they were in school, they were always laughing and fooling around in the hallways. So just like some of us are born to be tall or short, the Siegel’s were just born to be smarter than anyone else.
The Siegel’s also lived directly across the street from PS 179, on the first floor of an apartment building on East 3rd and Avenue C. Most of the time they never even wore coats to school, because all they’d have to do was run across the street to class.
Now you have to understand we hardly ever saw them in school, because they were always in the “SP” classes on a different floor at PS 179. But the Siegel’s were a kind bunch you know, and always made themselves available for us to hang out with after school. Which usually meant a “play date” in their apartment directly across the street from the school.
Now our “play dates” were a little different from the ones we have today. Sure we had the same kind of “fun” your kids may have today, we laughed, played games and told jokes to each other. But the biggest difference about our late 60’s Kensington version was that our parents were nowhere to be found. And that included Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.
So what kind of “play dates” did we have you ask? Well, forget water balloons out the window or shooting marbles with a slingshot at a city bus. Killing roaches with a hair dryer?, No, we’re talking about the 60’s here, that’s 70’s fun. And Russell and David would be way too advanced for that anyway, and besides they were “SP” students. So all of our suggestions were just kid stuff in their eyes. No, we just left it up to the Segals to run the “play date”.
And the Siegel’s had a special game; a game that only a PS 179 “SP” student was capable of making up. And it usually started with them handing out real Army helmets when we walked in their apartment. I guess the ones their parents must have used during Vietnam War protests at Washington Square Park.
So what do you think? playing Army men with toy guns? No, you better think again because these were the brightest PS 179 had to offer, and you could only expect the “best” from the Siegel boys when it came to a “play date”.
“Ok, everybody put on your helmets and get behind something fast”.
With that, we would all strap on our metal Army helmets and get behind a couch or wall. With a silver frying pan in his hand, David would place it on the stovetop, and light the gas. A few moments later he would take the box of 22 caliber bullets that he pulled out of a closet, and pour them into the pan. Quickly he would run away and hide either behind a wall, console TV, or just go into his bedroom. After a couple of minutes the shells would slowly start to fry and make a "sizzling sound", and then just like popcorn popping, they would start to snap and explode. "Hit the decks" said David. The bullets just flew through the apartment, breaking glass, hitting furniture, or embedding themselves in the heavy plaster walls. And we would never move until we got the "all clear" message from David. What do you think? we were stupid.
So like I told you, only the “best” from the Siegel’s.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking, what the hell were a bunch of “low achievers” doing with a couple of “SP” students who probably became Doctors or Lawyers twenty years later. Well, I don’t know either; and all I can think is they probably just found us “entertaining”, that’s all.
So the next time your 10 year is walking around with a frying pan on his “play date”, you better check his pockets and pat him down. Because somewhere in Kensington along time ago, kids were making more than just “popcorn” on their parents stove, and sure had "fun" on their “parent-less” play dates.
Last year I held a roller hockey reunion at my house in Brooklyn. I looked up and invited many guys that I haven’t seen in over thirty years. Facebook, phonebook, arrest records, you know whatever it takes to track down your old friends you haven’t seen in a while.
And the result was a big barbeque in my driveway one day last June. Old faces, no hair, gray hair, and so on. We talked about the “glory” days of playing hockey down at Avenue F, and our time skating right on the block where we all grew up. There were photo’s, old hockey jerseys and whatever else a fifty one year old man could hold on to before his wife throws it out.
Now no one has yet to throw mine out, and I guess you can call it my own "connection to the 70's". You see, on this very special piece of black illustration board lie dozens of old black and white photos taken of us playing hockey from the early 1970's. You see when I attended the High School of Art and Design back then I took a photography class at the school. And my teacher was this guy named Mister Kleyban.
Now for whatever reason Mister Kleyban just never liked me, and I’ll be dammed if I ever knew why. Because I was my mom’s own six foot three “little angel” and I never did anything wrong.
Well, but then again…
So one day at class Mister Kleyban asks us to take nature photographs, I guess walking into Prospect Park with my camera in hand would have been the proper thing to do. But no, instead I take it up to Fort Hamilton one day while we were playing hockey and shoot dozens of pictures of us all skating instead. Then the following day I developed them in the darkroom in class and then promptly mounted them on the black board and handed the project in.
I clearly remember the day Mister Kleyban handed us our “graded” projects. I turned mine over and there was a big red “F” on the back.
Not feeling a bit guilty I put it inside my portfolio and brought it home to show the guys and NOT my mom. Yes, with all these glorious hockey pictures I was East Fourth’s hero for the day among all the boys.
That was probably sometime in 1972, my first year at Art and Design.
You know I was almost treated like some kind of celebrity on my block, the stories I brought home about Art and Design. The kids, all the beautiful girls, the guy dressed up as a condom for Halloween. It was just too much for most of my Parochial school friends to ever comprehend you know.
What a wonderful school that was, I hope my kids can only be that lucky someday.
So guess what re-surfaces last spring at my hockey reunion, yes the old hockey pictures mounted on that black board with the big “F” still on the back.
And you know what, I couldn’t be happier. Because I still had those pictures along with that big red “F”.
I have to tell you that this blog actually gave me the idea to do mine. And since October it's been out of commission. Too bad because it was a real nice blog. But thanks anyway guys for doing it for so long.
I got to tell you, if you were Irish and grew up in Windsor Terrace like many of my friends, seeing a baby in a bar wasn't a big deal at all. In fact the McKay's who used to live downstairs from me told me countless stories about hanging out in Harold's Bar on Fort Hamilton with the kids in the back playing with blocks. But like everything in life, that was then and this is now. And unlike many of my friends dads who were longshoreman working down in Redhook' (who you'd never question about having their toddler crawling on the sawdust floor at Ulmers). These new "Yuppie" Slopers just don't look the part, I mean check out the expression on this guy's mug? I don't think he was down at the dock today with his cargo hook you know.
So get these people out of the bars and let the kids drink in peace. I mean come on people, what's there not to understand here?
But then again, if some old guy with a cargo hook in his hand walks into Two Boots with his grandkid on his shoulders. You'd just better give him his room, and let him drink in peace. And what ever you do, don't touch the kid's blocks on the counter.
Evelyn has left a new comment on your post "Walks with my Father"
Thank you for that very moving piece. I lost my father when I was 12, much older than you and your siblings, so I still have some memories of him; but most of mine are similar to yours, faded into black and white as in the old photos. We walked together along the same Church Avenue as you and your dad and those are my most precious memories of all. I think that is why this blog is so wonderful for me and for those of us who grew up in Kensington. You were there, too!