The "Play Date from Hell" started like any other “play date” usually does. You’re in a park or playground with you son or daughter just pushing them on that black-seated swing. They’re laughing away with their little legs kicking back in forth having another wonderful day. And there’s that woman next to you again with that big straw hat. You have seen her about three times so far and yet have never spoke. You have your “nanny” radar on and so far so good. Time to move on this, looks like the mom.
“Oh, so how old is your daughter?”
“Well, she just turned three on August 14.”
So far, so good, no corrections yet about her not being the mother.
“Are you from New York?”
“Oh, me too” “What’s her name?”
“Oh, she has such beautiful blonde hair”.
Now, for the big one as your leaving.
“Here, let me give you my number, maybe the kids can get together one day.”
She smiles and gives you her number too.
"Mission accomplished" is all you say to yourself as you push open the heavy metal gate of the playground.
And just like any other date, you still wonder if they’re going to call. Everyone is just so polite nowadays, and you wouldn’t expect them to crumple up your phone number right in front of your face now would you?
And then one day the phone finally rings.
“Hi, this is “………” from the playground, we met the other day.”
“Sure that sounds great” “I’ll see you then.”
Oh, coffee or tea, what should I make? Now, which toys have that lead based paint? Better hide the “Little Princess” stuff. I know he’s only “experimenting” but she doesn’t.
Ok, good, NPR as back-round noise.
The doorbell rings, and there she is.
“Hi, so nice to see you” “Oh, she’s so beautiful.”
Now my wife is a stay at home mom and has always been a pretty good disciplinarian with our son. No beatings or anything like that, just right from wrong, stand in the corner, 1, 2, 3, so on and so on. And let me tell you, it all works. He’s eight years old now and hasn’t spit at his teacher since pre-school.
And then it started, just like that.
The big wooden spoon just struck the back of my sons little three-year-old head. The blonde girl just laughed after she did it.
My wife just sat there thinking the lady in the big straw hat would say something. Hoping in some way she would tell her daughter not to do it again.
“Oh, is he having a bad day?” said the lady in the straw hat.
Is this woman totally insane?
Your little blonde haired daughter just whacked my kid on the head with a wooden spoon, he’s crying and you’re asking my wife if “he’s having a bad day?”
My wife gently confiscated the wooden spoon from the little blonde girl. She then started crying.
“Oh, Virginia, I think she wants the spoon back” said the lady with the straw hat.
My wife gave the spoon back to the little blonde girl.
“Now no hitting,” said my wife.
“Oh, you don’t have to tell her that, she knows not to hit.”
And it just continued…………..
My son spent most of the “play date” trying to protect himself from the little blonde girl. The mother was just totally oblivious to anything her daughter did, yet totally tuned in to my sons crying after he would get whacked by the spoon.
“Oh, Andres, I’m sorry, are you having a bad day?” said the lady with the big straw hat.
Now, my son was pretty verbal as a three year old, you know the third adult syndrome, blah, blah, blah.
And here it comes, those moments in life that you never forget. The ones you tell your kids about when they’re older.
The lady with the big straw hat stood by the front doorway with her blonde demonic child in the stroller.
She just looked at my son and said,
“I hope the next time we visit you won't have such a “bad day”
With that my three-year-old son just looked at her and said,
“YOU ARE A VERY STUPID WOMAN”.
The gasp could be heard around the world.
The woman with the big straw hat just looked at my son frozen.
My wife started sweating while I was laughing inside as hard as I could.
Let me tell you when you grow up in Brooklyn you just love moments like this, you just do.
My wife and I did our best to make Andres apologize for his remark, although we knew he just said what we were thinking all throughout the entire play date.
My wife did her best to avoid the woman with the big straw hat form that day on. Carefully surveying the playground before she opened the heavy black gate day after day. It was just that bad.
We don’t know what happened to the lady with the big straw hat and her daughter, she never called us and we never called her. It was Brooklyn justice, plain and simple. But like all good "Kensington Stories", they all start somewhere.
One of my best childhood memories was watching my favorite shows and sports on a black and white TV. The TV screen was small and of course had a rabbit ear antenna sitting on top. Remember how you had to get the antenna in just the right position to get decent reception? Usually this involved a family member (that would be me) having to hold the antenna to get the best reception. If you didn’t get the antenna just right, you get the dreaded lost horizontal control where the picture would scroll around and around making your head spin.
The TV’s back then had tubes and took a while to “warm-up.” There was a TV repair store on Church Ave. and Dahill Rd. that had a “Tube Tester” to check if you had a bad tube and get a new one if it was burned out. Unlike the hundreds of channels we have now, back then we only had 7 channel choices-2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13.
Changing channels actually involved some physical effort-getting off the couch and turning the dial. Remote control? We didn’t need no stinkin’ remote control! I’ve always been a channel changer whether it’s a radio or a TV. I actually broke our TV channel changer dial. I would spin the TV dial like a Vegas roulette wheel! The only way to turn the dial after my rough treatment was to use a pair of pliers on the little metal stub that remained. I remember watching TV at Charlie Gili’s house and changing the channels. When Charlie’s father saw me spin the dial he called out, “Hey, that’s not some part from a submarine!”
We finally got a color TV in 1975 or ‘76 but the rabbit ears remained a necessity. Now, the problem was not the horizontal control but losing the color if the antenna was not positioned perfectly. Many people had roof antennas but we rented and landlords usually didn’t like you messing with their roofs or chimneys. Roof antennas were not always the solution to bad reception either. You had to make sure the antenna was pointed towards the World Trade Center where the TV stations broadcasted their signals. I discovered the perfect solution one day-an antenna that rotates sold at RadioShack! A small motor that you control from your living room turns the antenna until you get the best reception. With the help of Steven Marshak (spelling?) we installed my rotary antenna on the roof above the second floor balcony. Hey, we weren’t on the actual roof of the house so no need to inform the landlord! The other selling point of the rotary antenna was the possibility of picking up a TV signal from Philadelphia and watching hockey games. Unfortunately, I was never able to pick up a strong signal out of Philly. I might have been hallucinating, (it was the 70’s) but a couple of times I could make out the resemblance of a hockey game mixed in with mostly TV snow.
Remember, this is before cable came to Brooklyn and we could only watch Ranger away games on channel 9 (WOR) with Jim Gordon doing play by play and Bill (The Big Whistle) Chadwick commentating. The home games were shown on the MSG Cable Network only in selected Manhattan areas around the Garden. My aunt and uncle lived in co-op apartment near the Garden so if we couldn’t get tickets to a play-off game, I would ask them if we could watch on their cable TV. Eventually Charlie, Alfred Guerrero and I got Ranger season tickets up in the blue seats-section 440! I think it was only around $180 per season ticket or around $4.50 per game! The problem is there were three people for only two seats. Fortunately, Charlie created a spreadsheet (pre-computer) and a schedule that had the three of us going to an equal number of games. The other amazing thing was that Charlie set up the schedule so we would each see the same number of visiting teams. Of course, there were complaints occasionally if someone didn’t have tickets to a big rivalry game. We even found a way around this problem so all three of us could go to a game. We would get an old ticket stub and wrap a ten dollar bill around it and hand it to the ticket taker. We knew which ticket takers would accept the “bribe.” The three of us would actually sit in the two seats if we couldn’t find an empty seat. It’s ironic that today Alfred is a security guard at the Garden! Look for Al and his big mustache at ice-level. He opens the gate to the dressing room between periods.
Today you can watch any game and team with the NHL Center Ice package on cable or satellite TV. The games are now broadcasted in high definition which is great for hockey viewing. It would’ve been nice having all these viewing options and technology when we were growing up. However, we sure had some good times trying to watch as many games as possible.
Waves of immigrants came to America and are still coming. The American dream in its conception and pursuit is almost unfathomable in its design and yet perfect in its simplicity. Live and let live. Worship or not as you wish. Put your faith in yourself and what you can do through hard work and fair play. Some folks still believe in such things and others might think they are owed something and that life is all about getting over. Well, this story is not about that group.
Carmelo Gili or Charlie as he would later be called, left his homeland on the tiny island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea in 1907at the age of 13. Imagine that? 13 years old. I certainly couldn't imagine my son or daughter or myself being on my own at that age. I guess back then it was a lot more common for young people, kids really, to venture out and try making it on their own. Just to make his situation a bit more challenging, Carmelo not only left Malta and his family, but he went to sea as they say, to sail the seven seas.
In those days ships didn't really sail much anymore as in sail boats or clipper ships. For the most part, ships were powered by steam. Steam ran the engines that turned the cork-screw propellers that drove those ships through the oceans of the world.
To describe making steam as hard work would be a bit of an understatement, especially by today's standards, but that's what 13 year-old Carmelo did. He stoked furnaces in the bellies of ships from Valetta to China and San Francisco, to South America, Australia, India, Casablanca and Madagascar, Jamaica, Liverpool, Cuba and probably 100s of ports all over the globe, in his seventeen years aboard ship.
Stoking a ships furnace in those days was dangerous, back breaking work. The "stokers", later called fire-man (a person who tends fires), would basically shovel coal into a furnace. The coal would burn and heat water that would create steam to power the engines. Simple right? Except that there was no OSHA on those ships, no unions, very little safety precautions for the laborers and little law as we know it. Basically, it was tough it out or simply, just get out.
Grandpa Carmelo entered New York Harbor to stay, in 1924 and he brought with him arms wrapped in anchor chain tattoos and a chest adorned with a tattooed, fully-rigged ship, broad shoulders, the money he'd saved from his years at sea and his shovel.
He met and married my Italian grandmother Eva Colombo an accomplished seamstress in 1927and they rented a walk-up apartment on Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy. Carmelo went to work for the Heide Candy Company (founded in 1869 by another immigrant from Germany.) Grandpa made use of his shovel again and his ship-board education of boiler systems was valuable experience, since boilers were also used in the candy making process.
Hard work and determination eventually earned Carmelo and Eva enough money to buy their own home on East 2nd Street, in Kensington. They had two children; my Aunt Angel and my dad, Anthony. Later on there were 8 grandchildren, with me arriving first and named after my grandfather. (If you ever meet a Charles or an Anthony Gili anywhere in the world...guaranteed, they are a relative of mine!)
Working for the Heide Candy Company had its rewards! Around Christmas time we'd all wait for "The Box" to show up in the mail at grandpa's house. We lived just across the alleyway from my grandparents, so we'd usually see it (the box) coming! You see, some of the employees who worked for the Heide Co. would get this big box around the holidays and it was loaded with all sorts of Heide candy products; Mexican Hats, Red Hot Dollars, Jujubes and my favorite; Jujyfruits! The extra neat thing was that the candy was packaged in the giant-sized boxes that you can get these days, but you couldn't back then. The only time I ever saw a giant box of these candies as a kid, was when they showed up in the special carton that was delivered to my grandfather.
When people find out that I have a Maltese heritage, they always think that Malta is somehow a part of Italy, but it's not. It is its own country, most recently gaining independence from England back in the 1970s. Its location in the middle of the Mediterranean has always made its possession a strategic holding in wars dating back before the Crusades and it is probably one of the most "conquered" pieces of real estate in world history. The language is very guttural sounding, much closer to Arabic than Italian.
Sundays were always a big deal. It was often a day to "have company." You don't hear that expression much anymore, but this was the common phrase back then. This basically meant that someone or many some ones (usually family) were coming to visit, to eat with us and usually they would bring some cake or pastries. We'd all go to church in the morning, but my grandmother would go to the earliest mass at IHM, ahead of the rest of us because she wanted to get back in her kitchen to start some monster cooking marathon for "the company" due to arrive later on.
Sometimes those family visits were just for fun and other times they were for some kind of project. If there was some big thing that needed doing, the Gili's didn't often, if ever, hire a contractor. Roof needed repairing, new sidewalk needed pouring, brick face needed rehabbing, no problem. Call out the family and they'd come with tools and material. Once the work was done, it was time to eat!
After dinner, Maltese men into one room to scream and yell in Maltese about the politics of the day, usually about independence from the English. Grandma and the women would be cleaning up and starting to reheat and push the leftovers at you or make coffee, so we could eat the company's cakes or pastries. (By the way, they called the coffee pot the percolator.) Italian grandmothers are about as famous as Jewish grandmothers for making you eat until you're almost ill. After that they toss more plates of food at you and look at you like your crazy when you say you're full. I have a feeling that's true of all grandmothers regardless of their heritage!
Grandpa Carmelo loved America. He became a maniac NY Mets fan and the sight of a drooping chest pocket during baseball season was common on game days. That pocket held a small transistor radio and a single wire ear plug ran up to his ear. You'd always know if the Mets were doing poorly. If you saw my grandfather rip that wire from his ear, take the radio out of his pocket and spin that little on-off dial to the off position, mumbling something under his breath that we weren't supposed to hear, you knew the Mets were not having a good day.
If I "caught" him doing that, I'd be ready to rib him about his Mets, since I was a Yankee fan. He'd cut me off and say, "The Yankees, they stink!" He'd wave his hand at the air and go back to griping about his team. Baseball got in his blood pretty good. Looking back, I think that baseball was one of the things that helped him assimilate in America.
Grandpa Carmelo lived in Kensington for about 40 years. He never left. The 13-year-old little boy from Malta did what he set out to do. To simply live a good life. Family was always the most important thing. He never owned a car and never made tons of money, but he had his home and his family. He never wanted anything for nothing and never expected anything for nothing. After all, HE was an American.
As my grandfather got into his later years, I would always expect to see him sitting in his chair at the window at the front of his house. When I left for school he'd wave goodbye and when I came home he'd wave to welcome me back.
I was a senior at FDR high school in 1974 and coming back home on a cold, wintery day. There was a few inches of snow on the ground. As I neared my grandfather's house at 208, I noticed his snow shovel inexplicably lying on the ground near his front stoop. This struck me as odd, since he was a stickler with taking care of his tools. I glanced up to check his usual window perch, but he wasn't there.
I picked up his shovel to let him know it was left out front and made my way around to the alleyway entrance that we used each day. I walked in to find out that grandpa Charlie was gone. His 80 year journey had ended with a heart attack earlier that afternoon. The shovel I picked up was the one he was using when he died. The shovel he was using in front of his own piece of the American Dream he found in Kensington.
The family used to scold grandpa about doing heavy work at his age, but another trait of the Maltese is that they "have heads like rocks" as my family would say. At 80, with a shovel in his hands, I don't think my grandpa would have wanted to leave this world any other way.
I still have one of his shovels in my garage that my dad had in his. Some people might find it an odd keepsake, but whenever I pick it up it reminds me of where I come from and of two of the wonderful men who taught me what it means to be an American in Kensington.
(Thanks again Charlie for another wonderful story) Ron Lopez Mopar195@yahoo.com
He was tall and thin and carried a black garbage bag onto the subway car. His skin was dark and his face unshaven.
I remember looking at another homeless man that day on the F. He walked on to the train at the 14th street station by Union Square, and just stood there across from where I was standing.
And people gave him his “room” too, because that’s what you do when the homeless walk onto your train, you just give them their space, and hope they don’t bother you.
I just stared at him and looked at his eyes, because the eyes never change, even when you’re homeless.
He looked back at me, his eyes were as dark as coal, he said nothing.
I know he felt strange when I saw him too. So he just walked away and sat down on a seat facing the opposite direction so I couldn’t notice who he was.
The people sitting next to him all got up and found other seats in the subway car.
I walked towards him though, and sat beside him.
“Hey Donald, remember me? it’s Ronnie from Art & Design”
He turned his head towards me, but didn’t look in my eyes this time.
“How you doin man?” is all he said
“I’m fine Don, I’m fine”
“Yeah, well, you know since High School things have been a little rough for me” “I’m ok, but things are just not that good”
I remember my first day of high school back in 1972, Donald was one of the first people I sat with at the lunch table in the back of the cafeteria.
Donald always wore these really cool tinted sunglasses and had a small goatee. While most other kids weren’t even shaving yet, including me, Don looked like he may have been about 20 years old.
Along with Donald, I also sat with Ernest and Sandy. Donald and Ernest were black, while Sandy was Jewish. We were certainly a cross section of New York, but hey. That’s what made the High School of Art and Design so cool back in 1972.
Yeah, the High School of Art and Design. I never knew some of my best friends were gay until my senior year. And to tell you the truth it never really mattered either. Because we were all such good friends, and all artists anyway. All going to a school were nobody cared about “what” you were. And no one felt they were better than anyone else.
We all just loved that school so much, including my friend Donald.
“Hey man I’m getting off here”
I reached into by jacket and gave Donald a twenty-dollar bill.
Donald just looked at me and said “thanks”.
That was about 25 years ago and I haven’t seen Donald since.
So the next time you see someone riding the F-train with a bundle of sorrow. Think about my friend Donald, and never ever feel that you’re better than anyone else. Because someday that person just might be you.
Growing up without a father for most of my life was a little difficult. And "Fathers Day" was especially hard for me because my dad died when I was only seven years old. But because I had people like my Uncle Pete and my Grandfather Paco in my life, it made it that much better for me because they made up for the loss of my dad. And I will always remember them as well as the other fathers on my block who taught me well. So thank you Uncle Pete, Bob Brennan, Mac, Mister Spinner, Mister O, Bobby Wilson, Uncle Manuel and every other dad who filled in for my dad.
And a Happy Fathers Day to all, living or not, including my own Father who died so many years ago.
The memories are faint and hard to recall. When I picture them it’s like watching an old black and white movie. I remember walking next to him and looking at the belt he wore, I remember holding his hand as we would walk up to Church and inside one of the small newsstands that dotted the Avenue.
There was one in particular that I recall, it was where the tiny shoe store is across from Golden Farm. It had a tiny counter and a few chrome plated stools. They were round at the top and you could spin them around. The tops of the stools were padded with either a black or dark red vinyl. When my dad waited for his change I would gently spin the seat tops while peering under the counter for a glimpse of the hundreds of pieces of dried gum people left behind.
“Hey Dad can I see the Camel?”
My father would usually hand me the pack of cigarettes to look at. I remember staring at the Camel with the two columns on each side of it. Back then there was no surgeon generals warning on the pack, so a kid could look at it without a parent fearing a question about why you smoke. My father would gently tug me out the door and we would start our journey back down East 4th to our house.
The trips to the candy stores or newsstands as we call them today were fairly frequent for my Dad. You see my father smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day,and filter-less of course. The news stand next to the bank and the jewelry store was another destination for my Dad and I. I think it’s the only original news stand that I can still remember from the early 60’s. Sometimes my Dad would buy Chesterfield’s, he would always let me look at the pack which I closely studied of course. And sometimes on the way home we would stop by the Beverly Theater to see what was playing. The marquee always cast a huge shadow with it’s lights blinking like a Coney Island arcade. There was a long wide entrance which lead into the theater. It gently sloped up to old time wooden and glass doors. You could always see the concession stand from the sidewalk too, it was probably where the counter is for the “T-Mobile store”. And no matter what time of day it was or even if the place was closed you could always smell popcorn in the entrance way.
By the time we would reach East 2nd street my Dad would be puffing away. Billowing smoke like an incinerator from the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway, out of his mouth, out of his nose and sometimes looking like his ears too. My father was always off to work too, and no matter what time of the day it was. And of course, he had to finish his cigarette before he left the house.
“Your father works like a donkey”
That’s all I heard my grandfather Paco say about his son.
“Education is what will make you succeed in life”. “Your father refused an education and look at him now”
I guess my grandfather was talking about college, because my Dad did go to High School. John Jay in Park Slope. But then again, I never knew if he ever graduated.
My Dad worked two jobs and sometimes three, he worked in a restaurant called McPherson’s down by Trinity Place in Manhattan by day, and by night at the Trinity Place post office as a “part timer”. He also did catering work on weekends and even co-owned a coffee shop at sone time on Vanderbilt right off Atlantic. So I didn’t see my Dad much, and if I did he was usually sleeping between jobs on a Lazy Boy in the living room. For my brother and I there was no catch in front of the house and there was no playing tag at Greenwood Park. And we knew better not to even ask my father.
One day when my brother and I came home from PS 179 we heard my mom on the phone crying to her sister. We looked in their bedroom and my father was lying in the bed, he was crying too. In those days no one told a little kid what was going on and you dare not even ask. All I heard from my mom was; “Daddy's not feeling well and won't be going to work for a while".
You see it all started my father was offered a full time position at the Trinity Place Post Office. There was a routine physical he was ordered to take before he could become a full-time employee. Problems breathing were followed by X-rays. A "spot on his lung" was detected and before you knew it there were tests followed by more tests. Doctors in those days didn't "beat around the bush" like today. Dr. Weisel on Plaza street in Prospect Heights told my Dad straight to his face that he would be "dead in three months".
My Dad refused chemo, but did opt to have one lung removed, and I will always remember that scar. It went from his chest all the way around his back, it just looked like train tracks around a mountain through the eyes of a kid. But hey, at least he was home for my brother and I, and that's all that really mattered to us.
Eventually though death did arrive, and on August 24th 1965 at the age of thirty-nine, my Father died. Just about three months after he was told he would, leaving a seven, nine and two year old without a father.
Oh sure, I know there are old photos of my brother and I together with my Dad building a snowman in our back yard at 399. There are also ones taken upstate at our country house with me on his shoulders. But the truth is nothing sticks in my mind more than those simple walks to Church Avenue holding my Dads hand, and smelling stale popcorn by the Beverly.
For there are no photos of those times, but just the memories of a seven year old boy who barely knew his father.
It's called 23 Caton Place, and for all you natives it's right around where Park Circle Lanes used to be. It's some developers "bankrupt" project just lost in time here in Kensington. Gee, I'm glad when they built my house in 1910 people built houses for people, and not for money. Boy, how times have changed.
The other day I had a craving for something sweet. What I wanted wasn’t quite ice cream, not quite ices… but something in between. The something I was thinking of was from my childhood. I think it was called a “Wonder Bar”. A cylindrical frozen mix on a stick, of strawberry and banana flavored deliciousness that was somewhere between the consistency of ice cream and ices, encrusted in a thick hard shell of chocolate. You could only get one from Morris, The Ice Cream Man. I thought I would Google “Wonder Bar” and see what I got. Instead, I decided to Google “Morris, The Ice Cream Man”. I didn’t find a Wonder Bar, but I did find your blog, a big smile and great memories.
From Morris’ size and elegance, to the whiteness of his uniform, to the sound of the truck’s bells, and of course, his never ending kindness… Your description was perfect! It’s a beautifully written tribute to someone that truly deserved it. Thanks so much for posting it.
I look forward to going through the entire site and reading all the stories and details. I did a quick scan of some posts from the past year and found several gems, including:
Your kindergarten photo in Mrs. Steinig’s class. I was in her class two years before you. I was glad to see that you carried on the tradition of the clip-on bow tie. I wore them too. Few understood the integrity and fashion sense one needed to carry those off well!
In that same post, there was a reply comment, mentioning “Hippo Hauptman”. It made me laugh out loud. To understand that name, is to understand true childhood terror. On the last day of school we’d hang around to see who had her as a teacher the following year. That information killed the summer for so many.
…and the aroma of horseradish in the park next to the old “Golds” factory” on Avenue F and McDonald Avenue.
PS- I grew up on East 3rd, between Avenue F and Ditmas Avenue.
Again… Many thanks. I’m sure I’ll have comments to add in the future.
Back in the 80’s there was a building on the south side of Church Avenue between East 5th and East 4th street. It was just called “SUPERMARKET”
As far as I remember it only opened up when it was dark outside, and the hours of operation were very sporadic.
Most of the food inside was usually covered with dust, and most everything was past it’s expiration date. The floors were pretty dirty and I didn’t think they were ever cleaned. It was a fairly big place, about the size of “Rite Aid”, yet there was only one employee. And he was only known to us as “Mike the Greaser”.
Now Mike was about 40 years old at the time and stood about 5 foot 9. He had thinning black hair that he slicked back most of the time, and of course his favorite shirt was a “greaser style” t-shirt. Mike was also very hairy, thick black curly hair covered most of his body that normally would have just been reserved for flesh for you and me. He also spoke with some type of accent that we could never figure out. It could have been anything, Italian, Russian, Greek, Turkish, Arab. We had no clue.
And to this day, I still don’t know how he did it, but he used to park his 1978 Buick inside the store. Between the beer and the chips. There was probably a back gate to get it into the store with, but we never saw it and never asked. We would only buy food at Mikes when everything else was closed, and for us it usually meant buying beer and chips for a late night card game over at Glenn Gruder’s house.
Mike never asked anyone for ID either, but then again my cousin Pete had a full beard when he was 15. So he was usually our “mule”, sort of speak. Mike’s prices varied depending on what day it was or what kind of mood he was in. And he usually charged us 5, 10, 15, or 20 dollars. His numbers were always in even dollar amounts, "no tax" he always said. I don’t think he even had a cash register in the store either.
One night while we were hanging out on my porch at 399. There was a lot of commotion up on Church Avenue. Tons of cop cars, flashing lights and a few ambulances. The next morning when I woke up, word on the block was that Mike was shot something like 5 times the evening before. Some kind of an armed robbery. So all the cop cars the night before made sense. Thinking the worst, we all started reminiscing about Mike, figuring he was dead. Thinking about him in that dirty shirt, the stale chips, the expired milk and the Buick Skylark parked in aisle 5. And not to mention the rare occasions when he lost it, and threw us out of the store. But through it all we loved Mike and were surely going to miss him.
So that same night we decided to take a walk to the avenue, and visit the scene of this horrorific crime. “Hey remember the time Mike threw that tuna fish can at you” “What about the time we rolled Mike’s car into the Ice Cream freezer” As we made the right onto Church Avenue from East 4th, we could see the store. Yet, there was no crime scene tape, and in fact the gate was up and the store was open. So we decided to go inside and see what was happening.
As we walked into Mikes I noticed a few holes in the front window. They looked like bullet holes too, very round with tiny jagged edges on the inside of the hole. There was someone behind the counter, he was bending over and was fiddling with something on the ground. He had what looked like a white rag wrapped around his head too. And then, he stood up, and our jaws dropped. We couldn’t believe our eyes, it was like we were looking at a ghost. There he stood in all his “Greaser Glory”. With his head bandaged up, his arm in a cast, and a large stained gauze pad on his side, taped to his skin with silver duct tape. It was no one other than “Mike the Greaser”
“Hey, you thought I was dead, huh?” “You think five bullets can kill me?” “Bullshit, that’s what I say” “I shot the guys eight times” “You see that blood?”,
Mike was pointing to where he usually parked the Skylark, so it was hard to see the blood because of the oil on the floor. “That Fuck died right there”. At that point Mike motioned us around the counter to take a look at something. There inside a small pigeon hole shelf right under the cash box was the handle of a black pistol.
“Dont’ta fuck with me, huh?”
We all looked at Mike and smiled and then celebrated his survival by buying some expired chips and beer.
"20 dollars, no tax".
I gave him an awkward hug before I left, trying to stay clear of his blood stained gauze pad at the same time. And then just said our good nights and went on our way back home to East 4th.
I think Mike eventually sold the property and today in its place are a nice row of clean stores.
But along time ago there were stale chips, old beer and a Buick in aisle 5. And a man we once knew, a legend by no other name. And he was simply known to us as “Mike The Greaser”
I remember the walls of our apartment always seemed to be on very sharp angles. Like old trees in a forest they sometimes looked as though they were leaning on each other and ready to collapse. Just falling right on top of us and swallowing our little bodies inside their lathe and plaster bellies. Never to be found again, trapped inside the dirty dusty hallows above our ceiling.
And it all seemed quite normal to me too, especially the pitched wall above my bed in our bedroom. A wonderful angled wall that always gave me the opportunity to study my watercolor paintings and classroom drawings when I woke up each morning.
I always felt quite comfortable in our apartment too. It just offered this splendid sense of coziness that I could never find in the enormous square walled dwellings of my aunt and grandmother below us. No, our apartment was just “right”, and I was always glad get back to our “little cabin in the sky” each and every day.
You know you're sitting on the top of the world too. A bird’s eye view of every sunrise and sunset over Kensington Brooklyn. Those magnificent Ocean Parkway apartment buildings could have easily been the “Berkshires” if you squinted your eyes long enough. Old television antennas turned into pine trees and tiny yellow windows were wonderful little farmhouses that sprinkled the mountainside.
Oh, but those sunsets, they were just beautiful every day. And there was never any need to even imagine when it set. Just a magnificent orange ball setting over the house tops of East 3rd and East 2nd. Finally disappearing over the gigantic factory on 39th street in Boro Park. No, even from our attic apartment an old factory looked beautiful with the evening sun slowly fading behind it.
Then there were the storms, and let me tell you there could be nothing as breathtaking as a thunderstorm from our top floor apartment. When the Kensington winds howled loud and strong you could actually feel the house swaying and rocking back and forth. One hundred year old timber and nails never pretending to be stronger than Mother Nature. Like a tall oak in Prospect Park, she just let the gales wrap themselves around her old wooden body, and gently dance a tender waltz. As the torrid rain would beat hard against the large picture window that looked over the “sea of tar” below. We would just hold on to the couch for dear life as waves crashed against her sides. Sometimes being afraid, but always too excited to ever move from that big old picture window in our living room.
Yeah, sometimes you really felt like you were in the wheelhouse of some old freighter at sea from that apartment. The helm of the good ship 399, and we were lucky enough to live there each and every day.
It’s strange but I still can’t get used to having a lot of space. I don’t know why, maybe I feel as though I’m not worthy and don’t deserve it for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love the apartment I live in now, but there’s something about a lot of space and perfectly square walls that still seems odd to me after all these years. Not to mention the “coziness” of a much smaller apartment that I still miss.
But that’s Ok, I know someday the kids will move out and maybe my wife will banish me to the basement. And boy is there a wonderful room down there I already have my eyes on. And it may all just work out fine; well except for the boiler and water heater I’d have to live with. But still, there’s enough room for a bed. And how much room does one need anyway to feel happy? Sure no views of the sunrise and sunsets over Kensington, but at least I’d have my own fireplace.
So if you live in an attic apartment in Kensington, remember to watch those sunrises and sunsets every day, and never forget how lucky you really are. Because only the lucky live on top.
Eileen, great to hear from you! You do not know how important your Dad was to me and the rest of the guys that used to hang out on your front stoop. It was like our world came to an end when he died. We were also heart broken when your little brother passed away as well, and I know that was what maybe hurt your Dad the most as well.
Thank you, Ronnie Lopez
"I was sitting in my yard about 9:00 Sunday morning, with my husband, and we started talking about KISS. I started telling him a story,from my childhood about a town called MountainDale, somewhere upstate, that we used to go with my "Uncle Freddie" and his buddies. Someone knew someone in KISS and they came to Mountaindale, hung out and performed for everyone. So, of course, I said "I wonder if I could find him" My husband, being the "seize the moment" type of guy grabs my new incredible ipad and starts searching......and comes across your blog. His eyes light up and he says "O my God muffin (yes,he calls me muffin) you are not going to believe what I just found". He had to read me all your blog posts because I was crying and all chocked up. Talking about my father, Bobby Wilson, like you did was a beautiful reminder of some of the happy moments of my childhood as well as the sad. I am amazed at your ability to pull these memories from your head with such accuracy and amazing detail. You have reminded me of things My "burnt and overloaded" mind have forgotten. Thank you so much for these moments you have given me today...I will be looking for more. Eileen Wilson
Wow! Stella! My mom always took me to the attic apartment with a bag of clothes in hand for your mom to fix. She would sit and talk to her while she worked on the sewing machine and I would play with Isabel...who had quite the crush on my dad .....she would ride her 3 wheel bike down the block and from across the street she would yell "BOBBY" as she passed our house! What great memories I have! Eileen Wilson
I'm laughing my ass off!! I'm crying! You and Ron Lopez have made my day! Maybe my year! I was the little girl staring out my window..watching all this go on...in love with all the boys....the "older boys". Rose was my babysitter. Such great memories! Thank you. Keep em' coming! Eileen Wilson
Elliot James has left a new comment on your post "The Candy Store by Charlie Gili": Do you remember a candy/newspaper store on Macdonald off Ditmas run by a middle-aged guy named Smitty and his mother? Used to go there to buy Marvel comics 1964-68.
I remember this place..Boy do I remember In the late 70's to Mid 80's
Park Circle Rink WAS the place to be! Forget about Empire or United Skates over on 60st. This place oh man , I remember a lot of dancing took place here. I remember the B-boy and Uprock Battles in this place. Dudes would be waiting outside decked out in Lee jeans , Puma or Adidas Shell toe with fat laces, and the legendary Kangol. I can still hear "Planet Rock" or "Its Just Begun" thumping from those walls! The infamous bridge which led to the rink's Ocean Pkwy entrance, was a notorious stick-up spot. I know a couple of people who got robbed trying to get to the rink. Never mind the bad stuff..... Kensington had soooooo much going on in those days. Park Circle Lanes was also a great spot. Back when the stables occupied two buildings and also carried insurance. I remember they also gave kiddie pony rides in a little field next to the Bowling Alley. The old burger spot on the corner across from The Jeffers Funeral home, which is now a church. Caton Place was a hidden gem !!! I know someone must have pics of this place and the Bowling Alley. I was kinda young and Dad wasn't going to let me borrow the Insta-matic Camera. It sucked when they closed this place down and turned it into a warehouse. I can still see the old ramp. The remodeled the building in the Mid 90's. It also hurt to see the old Bowling Alley tore down. Remember the big bowling pin outside that read "Park Circle Lanes" ?!! It was something about the air over there, and not the air coming from the horses. Those buildings all complimented each other. Far more than any cheesy condo could ever accomplish. I recently tried to gain access into the old rink via requesting to use their bathroom. Came close but no cigar. I know someone has pics of this place! Till then I can reminisce of the Breakers breaking and the Fly Girls looking cute doing the Patty Duke. Does anyone remember the building around the corner from the Bowling Alley which was the site of many failed businesses, from sports clubs to food joints. Its no longer there. Bring back the carnival at IHM !!!
P.S. Does anyone know of a sports team or gang called the Assassins. There used to be big blocks letters and a skull sign in the baseball/football space in Greenwood park. It survived till 1992 when the park was remodeled. Any info?????