The token booth was old and black and it was not very big at all. It's hard to say what it was made of; it may have even been wood. The booth stood in the middle of the station, quite far from Church Avenue and an equal distance to Albemarle Road. The North/South corridor is now closed for construction, but if it ever opens again you could still see the bolt threads that were cut flush to the concrete. I know because I saw them just a few years ago. I remember that my head barely reached the old wooden coin exchange when I would hand the clerk fifteen cents. And of course my Mom was standing right behind me when he gave me the token, which was about the size of a dime at the time. I just handed it to my Mom and then ducked under the large wooden turnstile, making sure not to hit my head. Forget the beeps, lights, and stainless steel that you passed through this morning on the way to work. It was old painted metal and worn out wood. And you had to be sure not to touch the turnstile; you may even get a splinter. Because the token booth was right in the middle of the station the distance to the nearest staircase was not that close either. So if you ever saw the lights of the F up at Ditmas Avenue from the corner of Church and McDonald chances are you would NEVER make that train. So the Church Avenue commuters of yesteryear certainly got a workout each and every day trying to catch the train. The Manhattan bound platform was never really pretty either; even as a five year old back in 63, it smelled like things I just didn't understand yet. "The lights, the lights", I would yell to my Mom, pointing up the black tunnel towards Avenue C. And that’s when it happened every time; she would take her very strong Polish arm and just lock it around my chest from behind. Giving me a close look at the gold and diamond ring she wore. I just said nothing as the very dark and dirty train roared into the station. With yellow lights shining from the inside it almost looked like a hotel rather than a train. My Mom would always grab my hand real tight too when walked inside the car. The seats were bamboo, the walls were a ugly green and there were gigantic oscillating fans spinning on the ceiling. So maybe on second thought it looked more like a bar on Miami Beach rather than a hotel. There was no constant hum of an air condioning system, LCD lights or whatever electronics that make today’s subway cars sound like your computer's hard drive. No, it was this low pitched chugging of compressor motors building up brake pressure, babies crying, people talking, laughing or coughing. And of course the squeaky sounds of the fans turning overhead. The doors just closed too, no bongs or PA system either to tell you to "watch out". There was also the odor of burning electric, grease and oil. I could only compare it to the "Eldorado" at Coney Island, an electric bumper car ride. We would usually find a seat and I'd watch the dark green doors slowly close. The train would slowly lurch forward, and we'd be on our way. With a low pitched "groan" that slowly built into a higher pitched "whine" you heard every single sound that the electric motors below your feet made. With the yellow tunnel lights passing the outside of each window like a stream of stars, the old train would creak and rattle and dance away on the rails below. The sweet sounds of the subway was all you heard, leaning against my Mom I would close my eyes and fall asleep.
I sometimes take my son to the Pavilion up by 15th Street; instead of driving we just take the train. “Hey Dad, why do you put your arm around my chest when the train comes?” "Oh, did I do that?". “I don’t know Son, I guess it’s just a habit”.
I guess was about twelve or thirteen years old when I landed my first job in the late sixties. My pal “Pudgy”, aka Brian Jacobowitz was working at Louie’s Candy Store at the corner of McDonald Avenue and Albemarle Road, just across the street from PS 230, and right next to the subway stairs at the north end of the Church Avenue F-Train Station. (It was just about 1967-68 when the F Train replaced the D on those tracks)
Pudgy had been working at Louie's for a while and had become expert at making egg-creams, chocolate sodas and all the important customer favorites.
Now I was hoping to get my foot in the door, and with Pudgy’s help I eventually did. The store needed someone to help put together all the various sections of the Sunday NY Daily News on Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings, to have them ready to be sold to the Sunday customers.
I'd go over at night or really early in the morning and Pudgy and I would grab the bundled papers off the delivery truck. We'd haul 'em over from the curb to the store and open up the padlocks and steel, accordion style gates, on one side and pile the wire bound stacks of papers just behind the gates. We’d lock 'em up for the night, to be worked on once the store opened up in the morning. This was my niche for a while and eventually (within a month or so) I was hired to work some regular hours after school and on weekends.
Louie’s Candy Store was literally a “Mom & Pop” operation. Louie usually wore an apron and a cabbie -style, herringbone, snap cap, also known as a hooligan cap, when he was working in the store. His wife also worked there on a regular basis. The place was a classic Brooklyn Candy Store. It had those tannish, maybe 1-inch octagonal tiles that made up the flooring, the classic soda-fountain amenities behind the counter, about a dozen swiveling, padded stools and newspaper and magazine racks like you’d see in a 1940’s James Cagney gangster flick. Pretzel sticks in a see-through, plastic canister and chocolate covered jelly-rings in a flip-top box with a cellophane "window" in the top of the box...all out on the serving counter.
Being located right above the F-train meant that there was a regular flow of customers. You could “feel” the trains coming in and leaving Church Avenue Station right through the floor of the store. After the rumble, a few minutes would go by and in would come customers fresh off the train.
If it was morning, you’d say, “Have a great day at work or don’t work too hard or see ‘ya later…” and if it was late afternoon or early evening, you’d say, “How was work today or have a nice evening or see you in the morning.” It was like clockwork. You’d get to know who was coming in and when, and you’d even figure out after a while what each customer was going to buy. “Pack of Camels, Pall Malls and a News or a Post.” “Cherry Coke or Egg Cream or Lime Ricky…” “Bialy or Bagel or Buttered Roll…”
Sometimes folks on the way to the station in the morning would glance south up McDonald Avenue, toward Ditmas Avenue, where the Manhattan bound F-Train left the elevated tracks and burrowed down under Avenue C, heading for the Church Avenue Station. If that happened, the alarm would go out, "The trains coming! " someone would scream. Louie's would empty out in a flash and some folks who were headed in for a paper or a roll would do an about face and run for the steps leading down to the platform. Pretty funny when that happened!
Picture all those people running down the steps, like some sort of football team at training camp; quick, little short steps, newspapers folded under one arm like footballs being carried by some pro-bowl half back for the NY Football Giants.
Yeah, Ron Johnson, number 30 could have handled those steps just fine! (With a little practice of course) You see, the guys and gals on the "F-train team" practiced all year long, day in and day out and just like football practice; they did it in all kinds of weather too.
My dad Anthony was one of those quick footed too, a subway-step running back. He was an All- Pro. Pop could not only do the quick step down the stairs with a newspaper under one arm, but he could even reach in his pocket for a token at the same time with his other hand! That meant there was no holding onto the handrails! That's a double move and All-star material any day of the week!
Louie’s was a regular stop for dad and dad would always kid with me when he came in after work, home from a day working the printing presses at Van Reese Press on West 26th Street in Manhattan and a 20 cents ride on the F train.
My dad would almost always ask Louie if I was doing a good job. Louie and his wife spoke with thick, middle-European accents and sometimes I found it hard to understand them. Sometimes they even spoke this unfamiliar language to each other or even to the odd customer on occasion. I noted that the only time they didn't speak English was when they were pissed about something. I guess they didn't want us to know what they were upset about.
I found out later that they were speaking Yiddish. I had no clue! Louie would answer my dad and say something like, “He’s a good boy, your son and he works very hard…” Sometimes Louie would even refuse to take my dad’s money. When dad left the store, Louie would say something nice about him, about how hard he worked and reminded me to be a good son and respectful of my parents.
Ok, confession time. Before I started working at Louie's, every once in a while after an Albemarle Road stickball game, I'd go in there and lift (yeah, steal) an ice pop out of the freezer. I only did it a few times and I don't know why I did it, but I did. Maybe it was the rush or maybe I just really wanted an ice pop and I didn't have enough money to pay for it. I always felt bad about doing it those few times I did. Anyway, that's what Confession was for and in those days, being a good Catholic School boy, I went regularly.
Once I started working there, I never took anything again. I never had to since Louie would always say,
"Charlie, why don't you make yourself a nice sandwich or something? Go ahead, take...have something to eat! A nice cream soda, maybe?"
It was always a nice something or other. I figured it was just a language thing. Of course, I would only consider a nice sandwich as opposed to a crappy sandwich. I always felt the use of "nice" was a bit redundant.
One afternoon, Louie rolled up his sleeves to wash some plates. I noticed that he had some sort of a tattoo on his arm, down near his wrist. I wasn't sure what it was so I waited a couple of days to ask him, the next time it was exposed.
"Louie, what happened to your arm?" I asked timidly.
Louie looked up at me and kept working. He never answered me. A couple of days later, when the store was quiet and we were alone, he rolled up his sleeve again and called me over. He explained to me that it was some kind of a serial number and that he had survived a Nazi concentration camp. I knew about World War II and about Jews being killed, but to me it was just like the War of 1812 or something else I had read in a history book or had heard on TV in passing. I didn't really have any insight about that kind of thing at that point in my life.
I will never forget that little man and the education I got that day and during the time I worked there. From what I learned about the Holocaust over the years and the nearly unbelievable inhumanity of it all, Louie's explanation of his very personal, family ordeal was kind for my sake. I distinctly recall the quietness in his voice and the tears in his eyes.
He explained to me how coming to America was so important to him. How we lived in the greatest country in the world and that no person should ever take freedom for granted. That it is one of the few things worth dying for and that many, many people had done just that.
I've never forgotten Louie's face, the sound of his accented voice and most of all; I have always remembered his words, his work ethic and his kindness.
PS: Before I left working at the store, I "found" about $2.50 on the floor when I was cleaning up. It's about what the stolen ice-pops were worth in those days. I put the cash in the register and thought many years later, that working at Louie's was probably one of the most inexpensive and thorough educations I ever got.
The following story was sent to me by Matt Millbauer, an old friend and Windsor Terrace native. Thanks Matty!
Back in the summer of 1979 my brother and I had a problem. There weren’t any good neighborhood bars for us to enjoy a nice cold brew and a good ballgame. Well, actually, there were about six or so within a ten block radius, but they were not for us. Those bars asked for I.D., so that was a big problem.
Now, trying to get a beer at these bars was a dangerous proposition. First of all, I was 16 years old and my brother was 14. Second of all, if my parents found out that we were in a bar, we definitely would not have made it to 17 and 15, respectively. And lastly, back then the neighborhood was a different place than it is today. People looked out for each other and that included other people’s kids. If we attempted to get served at one of the local bars, one phone call and we would be dead meat before we got home.
We were actually smart enough to know this too, so Terrace Bar (East 4th & Greenwood), Harold’s Bar (East 3rd St. & Ft Hamilton), Ulmer’s (Vanderbilt & East 3rd) were out. Since we lived on East 5th off Ft Hamilton this would be akin to ‘Shitting where you eat’. There was a bar on Church Ave and East 5th called the Sportsman Lounge, but our Mom’s good friend lived right up the street. Too risky, so in comes Pat’s Pub.
Pat’s Pub was on Prospect Avenue off of Greenwood Avenue down the block from the local firehouse. In order to get there you had to cross what was called by local youth the ‘Snake Bridge’-a fairly ugly green bridge that crossed over the Prospect Expressway. This expressway kinda separated these two areas of the neighborhood. Even though it was really only a stones throw away, we rarely ever ventured over it.
For whatever reason the bridge and the expressway acted as a boundary, and kids from over that side stayed over there and we stayed on our side. Every spring, however these two factions would come together at I.H.M’s annual Bazaar which sometimes involved the local authorities.
So Pat’s Pub was far away enough for us to try to get that beer, but close enough to stumble back home and more importantly not be seen.
We had grown a little tired of having to buy our beer at Wholesale Farms on Church Avenue-the only local store in the neighborhood that didn’t proof. Having to deal with Mike and his mutant fingernails and exorbitant prices was getting tiresome. Not to mention having to traipse all the way back up to the bocce courts on Vanderbilt St. to drink them.
In truth however, the impetus for us to attempt to visit Pat’s might have come from that fact that we had recently ‘procured’ my brother-in-law’s old draft card. It showed that he was 25 years old. This of course did not deter us. Now when I was 16 years old, I looked about 12. Seriously- about 5’4 and 100 lbs. My younger brother actually looked older than me, and with his ‘who gives a shit’ attitude was the logical choice to buy the beer once we got to Pat’s. So with our new I.D. we walked over to the other side on a bright Saturday morning.
It was about Noon when we walked into Pat’s Pub. Actually I scurried in and made a beeline for the back, as my brother Richie sauntered over to the bar. If you have ever seen the movie ‘A Bronx Tale’, think about the scene when the motorcycle club meets up with the mobsters in their bar. That bar was very similar to what Pat’s looked like. It was a very small place, with a square bar in the front and a Jukebox, some tables and a shuffleboard in the back. I think it used to be a place called Jerry’s Hardware a few years before. Either way, it had the vibe of a social club in someone’s living room. As I nervously fumbled with my selections, my brother bellies up to the bar, confidently puts two five dollar bills on it, while lighting up a Parliament. Right now there are exactly two people in the bar besides us. One is the bartender, and the other is a grizzled older man who sits nursing a beer and probably a hangover from the night before.
“What’s Up. Gimee a pitcher of Bud and two mugs please” my brother asks calmly.
I am standing there watching this out of the corner of my eye, trying to act cool. It’s not working. The bartender, a guy with many tattoos stares at my brother for what seemed to be 15 minutes without saying a word. He then leans over the bar and asks him:
“Do you have any I.D. kid?”
My brother, as confidant a 14 year old you would ever find, now seems pissed that this guy has the audacity to proof him. So with a roll of his eyes, and cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he flips my brother-in law’s draft card over to him. By this time, I am shitting it out over by the jukebox. I am having visions of the barkeep pressing a silent alarm and S.W.A.T appearing at the front door any minute now. Another insufferable minute passes as the bartender looks over the I.D. then my brother about 58 times.
“ So Mr. Ortiz, it says here that you are 25 years old.”
“Yep, that’s what it says.” my brother answers quickly, now clearly perturbed.
I feel the moment of truth is upon us as the barkeep looks one last time at us and then looks over to his lone customer who has been sitting quietly, clearly amused by the scene playing out in front of him. At last the bartender turns to his other customer and says:
“Do you believe the size of the balls on this kid?” The customer shakes his head as he stifles a laugh.
The barkeep doesn’t say a word as he tosses the I.D. back to my brother. That’s it I figure we are done. He then, to my shock and amazement, silently pours a pitcher of beer and grabs two glasses. He looks at us and says:
“One pitcher, sit in the back and leave when you’re done.”
My brother smiles at him through his cigarette smoke as he grabs our bounty.
“Keep the change”, he says.
Needless to say that was probably the fastest we ever drank in our lives. We stumbled out of Pat’s Pub into the afternoon sun and found our way back over the snake bridge into our territory. We were late for dinner that night, allowing for many basketball/softball games to help us sober up. I really don’t remember going back to Pat’s again, it closed down no long after that summer and by that time age didn’t matter. I think all the fun was in the chase, anyway. Now if we could only get served at Ulmers- no bridge to deal with.
Bobby Wilson had to be one of the toughest looking guys around when I was growing up on East Fourth street. With jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes, Bobby stood about six feet tall and was kind of husky. His jaw was as square as a pizza box from Korner and his head always looked like it was on the verge of exploding into a million pieces.
Yeah, if there was anyone who looked like they were going to kick some ones ass on my block, it had to be Bobby Wilson. Because Bobby just looked that scary.
Bobby also drove a tow truck for Al and Leo’s collision over on 36th street right off of Fort Hamilton Parkway. A bright yellow GMC with “Bobby” painted in script letters on the driver’s side door along with his kids names gracing it's big steel hood. Bobby Jr., Richie and Eileen.
Bobby would always park the truck in front of his house at 418 East Fourth Street too, right by the “Johnny Pump”. I could always hear the police scanner he had in his truck from my house, that’s because Bobby put it full blast while he was upstairs having lunch with his family. Just waiting to hear about an accident somewhere so he could quickly jump in his truck and chase it down.
You see in the days before the police outlawed tow trucks racing through Brooklyn at 70 miles per hour to be the first “hook” at an accident. Guys like Bobby Wilson were around doing just that. But Bobby never drove down our block that fast, no when it came to East Fourth Street, Bobby would never cross that line.
Now Bobby had to be about thirty-five years old at the time while we were all about seventeen. And we used to spend a lot of time hanging around on his stoop just to hear all his stories about Brooklyn and driving his tow truck.
Well, actually we used to just hang out with Bobby because we all really liked him that’s all. And besides, if your hanging out with him, there’s a much less chance that he’d kick your ass over something.
But the funny thing was that no matter how tough Bobby acted, it would all just melt away when he was around his kids, especially Bobby Jr., his oldest son. Bobby just loved Bobby Jr,. maybe it was all because he had the same dark blue eyes and long eyelashes as Bobby. I don't know, but Bobby just loved that kid the most, and we all knew it.
Yeah, those long black eyelashes and deep blue eyes, both Bobby and his son had the most beautiful eyes that would make any woman green with envy.
And Bobby loved his kids more than anything in the world, more than anything.
“You know Ronnie, if something ever happened to one of my kids I don’t think I could ever live” “I just don’t know how your mom can go on, I would have blown my brains out along time ago”.
Now Bobby was good friends with my mom and knew all about the fact that her son died when he was thirteen years old. And Bobby just couldn’t understand how my mom existed on this earth knowing that her son was dead and buried. Seeing him die a slow death in the hospital bed and then kissing his ice-cold face in a casket over at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue.
No, there was no living if something happened to one of Bobby’s kids, and he always let me know it.
Now I always used to spend a lot of time in Bobby’s apartment too. Just hanging out and bull shitting about anything and everything by their kitchen table. And I guess I kind of liked Bobby’s wife Eileen too, I mean she was more than pretty and certainly caught my eye, even if I was only seventeen while she was thirty-five.
And I’ll never forget the night I was hanging around in their kitchen, Bobby and the family just got back from Lake George and Bobby junior was complaining that his head hurt during the whole vacation.
“Ah, the kid probably needs to get his eyes checked, I but you he needs glasses”
Bobby never worried about the headaches Bobby junior was getting, no it was all going to be all right because little Bobby just needed glasses that’s all.
But the headaches didn’t go away, and little Bobby who was about five years old at the time was told to see a doctor about the pain in his head. And Bobby Wilson’s life was about to be shattered.
And then something very strange happened on the block, Bobby wasn’t hanging around on the porch anymore and we didn’t see his tow truck that much on the block.
No, little Bobby was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Bobby Wilson was planning his death. Because there was no way Bobby could live without his son, no there wasn’t.
Little Bobby died not too long after the doctors told Bobby Wilson about the brain tumor. The Wilson’s were never the same after then and neither was Bobby. There were no more visits to his house and no more stories on his front stoop. Bobby Wilson was dead, and you could see it in his face.
I’ll never forget the day I was coming home from work back in 1985. There were just a lot of people milling around on my block and a lot of people hanging around in front of Bobby Wilson’s house.
“Hey Ronnie, did you hear Bobby died?” “They found him upstairs in his bedroom”
The first thing I thought was that Bobby blew his brains out, just like he always said he would. But no, there was no gun and no suicide note, because according to the medical examiner Bobby died of a brain aneurism and nothing else.
And although Bobby left a gaping hole on East Fourth Street and in his family, at least he was with his son Bobby junior. Because he told me he could never live without him. And I guess he was telling the truth, because their both buried side by side over in Greenwood Cemetery.
It must have been about 1965-67. I wish I could remember exactly when it was, but it had to be around those years. I was still going to school at I.H.M. and probably in the 4th or 5th grade at best. Only about half way through my 8 years at that place. Still in the "old" IHM.
The kids at IHM had to go to PS 10 for a couple of years, while the new school was being built. Those of us that got bused "up the hill" to PS 10 and that had attended the old IHM, PS 10 and then the new IHM, referred to Immaculate Heart that way more than others, since we experienced all three situations during our 8 year, Catholic Grammar School education.
Our family lived on East 2nd Street, between Albermarle Road and Caton Avenue. We were just a half block away (south) from IHM. Other kids who walked to school, from points further south, had to pass right in front of our house to get to school, so we saw a lot of IHM'ers on school mornings.
One of the kids who passed our house regularly came from East 2nd Street too, but he lived a bloc k further up, between Albermarle and Church Avenue and on the same side of the street as us. His name was Kevin McQuade and he was a year or two older than me. I remember that the Boyles, Chris Abuso and Mikey Pierce lived on that block too and Mike Scotto lived across the street from those guys. There were a couple of other IHM families on that block as well, but I can't recall their names.
Kevin was one of those guys who had a reputation in the neighborhood. He was good looking, with blonde hair and a respected guy with his fists and a real street jock. Great stickball player. I recall sitting on the curb on Albermarle Road, between East 2nd and East 3rd Street watching Kevin and the guys a few years older than me play stickball, just before I was old enough to play out in the street on my own. Kevin had a reputation as being a tough guy who stuck up for the little guy and who would face down the bullies that came along every now and then. I think he was an Altar Boy as well.
I remember seeing Kevin pass our house in the mornings heading to school. He was one of those guys who would wave to and say good morning to and if he acknowledged me with a wave or a nod, well, that sort of made me feel pretty cool. I really looked up to Kevin and wanted that reassurance from him somehow, that I was at least a worthy enough kid to get recognized by him.
We were wakened one summer (I think) night to that awful sound of fire truck and police car sirens. Sometimes those sounds were distant ones and you'd wake up in the morning with only a vague recollection of having heard anything at all. Other times and this was one of them, you'd be wakened and scared to death. When our family all woke up and smelled smoke coming from someplace, we went outside to the front of our house on East 2nd Street.
Many of our neighbors had done the same. My grandfather and grandmother came out from the house they lived in at 208, next to ours. You could see heads out of windows and people out on the street in all directions, but everyone, including the folks in 199, the apartment buildings across the street, had one thing in common.
Everyone was looking up towards Church Avenue, across Albermarle Road from our block. There was a mass of flashing lights and uniformed personnel running around in the distance, just a block away from where we stood. Worse than that, you could see large orange-yellow a nd red flames, lapping out of a building on the same side of the block and clouds of smoke billowing up through the beams of street lights. I could hear people crying and praying aloud and saying, "Oh my God, Oh my God." I can recall my Italian grandmother making the sign of the cross and my mom and dad putting their arms around my brothers and me.
I think my dad or my grandfather or both, walked up to see what had happened, but I didn't learn the details until the next day.
A few people had been killed by that fire on East 2nd Street in those early morning hours. I don't remember how many. Two, maybe three I think. The one thing I do remember is that Kevin McQuade was one of them.
There were several buildings about mid-block that were all the same. Three or four family homes and there were fire escapes on the front of those buildings, with small lawns surrounded by bushes out in front.
Apparently Kevin had gotten out ok, but he went back in to try and help the others that were trapped. He came out with a little kid named Bruce, I think. Bruce had been badly burned, but Kevin had saved his life. I believe that after the Bruce rescue, Kevin went back in to that raging inferno again, to try and save others in trouble, but this time he didn't come back out and he and a couple of other souls were lost forever from this world.
I've wanted to tell this story for years and I hope there are a few folks out there who remember some more of the details about Kevin's short life and his tragic death.
The building sat there, boarded up and smelling like fire and ash and death, for days or weeks or even months maybe. I don't remember. I do remember that whenever I walked up that block, I crossed the street for yea rs, so I'd be as far away from that building as possible. It gave me the creeps and at the same time, I always felt like I was gonna cry, not from fear, but from the downright sadness of knowing what happened there and the mental picture I'd conjured up of a young, smoke-blackened, courageous Kevin McQuade stepping back through the smoke and into eternity.
Kev was just a kid, but he was a real hero. In a matter of a few tragic moments this young kid from East 2nd Street became a man, a hero and then an angel.
I’m glad that I've been able to tell his story someplace, as best as I can. It's a sad thing somehow, when our heroes fade into history and their lives and valor slip through the cracks of time. Kevin McQuade deserves better. God bless you Kev.
You know I would have never thought I would have liked this car. But after my wife convinced me that we should downsize from the Nissan Quest and it's 12.5 mpg in Brooklyn and 93,000 miles, I gave in. Yes, it is smaller than our van, and you have to think twice about what your taking upstate. But on the other side it really does get well over 50 miles per gallon, no kidding. So far this weekend we saved over 40 bucks on gas that we would have spent with the Quest driving around in the Catskills.
430 miles and 23 dollars on gas @ 3 dollars a gallon.
With a bright flash of sunlight the huge Cadillac Coupe Deville slowly crossed Beverley Road. It’s enormous chrome bumper just reflecting off the Kensington midday Sun. As it slowly lumbered up East 4th street we could hear the sound of its big block V8, just a low pitched “purr” as it rumbled closer towards the open mouth of my driveway.
“Ok, when I say three, just roll it down, and push it as hard as you can”. With my dirty little hand on the top of the worn out tire, I could feel the dryness of the treads. I stared at the yellowed white wall and wondered why it was never white. Awaiting my “orders” I stood there frozen holding on to the smelly old tire.
“Ok, Ronnie, One, Two, Three...NOW!
I pushed the tire as hard as I could; it started to wobble but then straightened out as it picked up speed. It made a strange “crackling” sound as it rolled, picking up little pebbles inside the dry rotted treads.
“Run, run, run”. My brother Joseph yelled frantically.
I quickly turned around and ran as fast as I could up my driveway towards the back of my house. A quick left and into my back yard and to our ultimate hiding place, the one-foot gap between the two garages in my back yard.
The loud skidding sound of the car sounded like some animal being slaughtered, its vibration could be felt in my teeth. It was quickly followed by the “thump” of the car hitting the tire.
With our little bodies squeezed hard between the rough cinderblock walls of the garages, my brother and I just looked at each other and started to giggle.
But then there was trouble, and we knew it might happen, the sound of a car door opening, followed by footsteps running up my driveway. We just held our breath, and froze between the damp walls of the garages.
“Come out you little bastards, I know your there”.
The footsteps were very close now, he was in our backyard.
“I’ll be looking for you kids, don’t think I wont get you”.
The footsteps started to disappear as he walked down my driveway and to his car. We heard the “chunk” sound of his door closing, followed by the sound of his car driving off.
“Good job Ronnie, good job” my brother Joseph whispered in my ear.
Now, we never ever saw one of our tires actually hitting a car, and could only envision what it must have looked like from the hollows between the garage walls. Because if we just stood there at the top of my driveway at 399 East 4th, and waited to see the “show”, well, that’s just “childhood” suicide. And we were too smart for that.
I still can’t understand how no one in my house ever noticed what we were doing. I knew my Mom was home along with other adults throughout the day. And my Grandfather Paco would have sent us back to Spain to have “Franco” do a number on us if he had seen what we were doing.
And yes, it got worse as we got older. We became more creative, and I picked up some cool sewing tips from my Mom when I assembled our six-foot “dummies”. Pushing them off the fender of a parked car and into the path of a speeding taxi or truck. Gee, no wonder why the girls on the block never looked at us.
And still no screams from the windows of my house.
But then there was the highlight of my career.
One time we were at a Halloween party at my friend Timmy’s apartment building on the corner of Albemare Road and East 5th street. It may have been about 1977. Once again another masterpiece of sewing and paper stuffing I dragged through the streets of Kensington under the cover of darkness. Some time during the party we decided to open the fifth floor window and place the dummy on the windowsill. Loud screams of “don’t jump Ronnie” were used to prompt about a hundred windows to open up from all the surrounding apartment buildings. With our audience in place and the theater fully seated, I heard the voice of my deceased brother in my ear. One, Two, Three…NOW.
The screams of all the people watching could probably be heard as far as the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island that night. The dummy just fell from the window like a lead balloon and snapped in two as it hit a tree below on the sidewalk. Again more screams form our apartment house audience as its head, body and torso all separated from each other.
“Good job Ronnie” is all I heard.
I remember trying to pick up a girl at the party that night, and guess what? She didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Oh gee, I wonder why?
So what do you say? "Boys will be Boys?” "Children must Play". I have to tell you no matter what your thinking the "Drug Dealers" never made a penny of the East 4th street boys. No, we had other things to do in Kensington, like roll tires, or sew a pair of Levis to a shirt.
And as far as dating or getting a girl in "trouble" over at Plum Beach at twelve midnight? no, I was painting a face on an old volley ball and getting ready to "duct tape" it to my new twin brother stuffed with yesterdays Daily News.
But God forbid I ever see my son out there at the top of my driveway with an old tire from our Nissan Quest. You know what I'll do. I'll just run out there as fast as I could and grab that tire, look at him square in the eyes and say...
You know last night I looked at Anthony Catalano's slide show on his site. His photo's are totally amazing and he really captured what is what like growing up in Brooklyn in the 70's. His photographs are the best I have ever seen I have to tell you. Once again: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badwsky/
I was reading an article about this new Condo in Brooklyn Heights called “One Brooklyn Bridge Park. About how people from Manhattan are drooling over it, and selling their properties on the Upper East Side for a slice of Brooklyn.
“The views are incredible”, New York Bay, The Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan And the price tags are only in the “millions” for many of these apartments. But hey, what would you expect to pay for such fabulous views anyway?
Well, back in the 60’s there was a very “lucky” Spaniard. You see he was actually “paid” to look at the same views that people are plunking down millions for. But he couldn’t look for long, because he might get his fingers chopped off by a machine that sliced boxes of “Bayer aspirin”.
You see my grandfather “Paco” worked at 360 Furman Street for the General Carton Company, way before it was anything more than a factory. I remember driving there with my Dad in our 62 Rambler, and picking him up outside the entrance on our way to the Catskills on a Friday night.
“Good riddance you lousy factory” my Grandfather would say as we drove away up Atlantic Avenue and on to the BQE. “See you Monday”
Other times we would pick him up at “El Montero” a Spanish Bar not far from the factory. Although my Grandfather Paco never really drank, we met him there because many of his co-workers were from Spain and socialized together frequently. Thank God the Bar is still on Atlantic Avenue. Got to see the inside of that place before they turn it into a “Starbucks”, it’s been almost 45 years you know.
Yeah, Millions for an apartment in my Grandfather’s old factory. But let's not tell them the story my Grandfather told me, about the dead body that floated right through one of the factory's riverside windows during high tide. It might scare their millions away, and give me nightmares again!
I could just imagine what my Grandfather Paco would say today. “What a bunch of stupid stupids, if they wanted to pay all that money for a view of the city, I would have given them my job. All they’d have to pay me was the hundred dollars a week I made, nothing more”
Yeah Grandpa, how times have changed. Millions for someone to look at what you've seen for over 20 years.
There are some days in life that you just don’t forget. I must have been no more than eight years old when it happened. My brother Joseph and my cousin Pete were already across the street by the window of the “Mister Softee” truck as it played it’s mind numbing jingle. I remember running down from the stoop of my house, and NOT looking both ways before I crossed. Yes, I just ran into the street like the “street rat” I was.
The awful sound of the car tires skidding was the first thing I heard. Like an animal being slaughtered, the sound was high pitched and deafening. Then suddenly there was the flash of yellow to my right, I closed my eyes when it hit me, and I just flew through the air.
My world had just ended.
The nuns never told us in “religious instructions” that Heaven was so hot. And from all the pictures they showed us, I would think it was cool and windy because of all the clouds there. Yet it was just dark and silent. So I opened my eyes to look for the gate and someone in a white robe, but instead all I saw were black wires, silver pipes and the inside of a Goodyear tire. I didn’t think this was Heaven at all.
Then slowly they arrived, the shoes, ankles and pant legs, blocking out whatever sunlight I could see from the bottom of the car. Yes, they came to rescue me, and I wasn’t dead at all. Someone then pulled at my feet and gently started dragging me from under the car. The pipes and wires slowly passed by my eyes until there was sunlight again.
There were at least ten heads in a circular pattern looking at me. They were the faces of my bother Joseph, cousin Pete and various adults including Mr. O’Callahan, my friend Neils Dad, who was holding onto my feet, because he just pulled me out. Most of the adults were telling me not to move and just stay still. I also noticed a man standing next to the cab crying hysterically. He was an old short man who looked something like Mickey Rooney. He was wearing a classic “cab drivers” hat.
There were also some people yelling at him too, blaming him for what just happened. But I knew It wasn’t his fault at all, and I felt sorry for him. And then in a flash I made my move, I just sprang to my feet and ran to my front porch across the street.
The first person there I saw was my cousin Pete’s grandmother “Lita” from Spain. Although she didn’t speak English, she motioned me to sit and stay still. Then what she did next I will never forget, she pulled a purple flower from a bush in our front yard and handed it to me. She motioned me to smell it. I just sat there holding the flower, it was shaking uncontrollably in my right hand.
“Ronnie, Ronnie, my son”, my mom had just made it down the three flights of stairs and was now sitting next to me on our stoop. She just kissed my forehead. I was afraid to look at her because I knew the whole thing was my fault. She kissed me again and said it was OK.
Then suddenly a police car and ambulance arrived, and now I knew I was really in trouble. I couldn’t look at anyone and just kept my head down when they took me inside the ambulance. Even though I knew I wasn’t hurt, they made me lay down on the stretcher in the back anyway.
They took me to Mamanodies Hospital in Boro Park and checked me out, nothing but a cut on my right index finger. When I got home that afternoon and walked up our front stairs, I still didn’t have the courage to look at my friends. I knew all the trouble I caused that afternoon was because I never looked before I ran into the street.
But what I remember most about that day was the image of the old man who drove that cab. The image of him crying against that yellow fender still haunts me today, and I never got to say I was sorry for what I did to him that afternoon.
Because I’m certain thats a day he never forgot as well.
The fog in the distance is right above the Pepacton reservoir which is about a mile and a half from our house. It is the largest reservoir of them all (NYC's) and holds something like 140 billion gallons of water. When my grandfather Paco bought the property upstate they just finished building it.