"Hey mom, what year was it again when I lost my rubber giraffe over at Grand Union"?
"You know Ronnie, that must have been about 1960, because you were three years old at the time, and never let go of that thing". “You just carried it everywhere”.
Yes, my little rubber giraffe. I remember chewing it on a daily basis. I’m sure it was chock full of lead paint, and probably gave me some kind of twitch or “involuntary movement” later in life. Or even worse, was the reason why I never made it to any of the “sp” or “gifted” classes that you call them today.
Yes, my little yellow and brown giraffe would be one of those toys you’d see on the 10 O’clock news at night. Just blame it for everything that goes wrong, even if you did forget to do your homework and study.
Now, this story is a real, real, old one. In fact it's so old, I can hardly even remember it at all. Hey, give me a break, I was only three when it happened!
For those of us who lived in Kensington for a while, the new “Foodtown” on McDonald and Albemarle Road was once the “Grand Union”. The Grand Union was the biggest Supermarket in Kensington and certainly dwarfed anything on Church Avenue at the time. So when my mom had to really go shopping, she plopped me in my stroller and rolled me about three quarters of a mile to the Grand Union. And of course I would never leave home “without it”, and that “it” being my little lead based giraffe.
Now the funny thing about the Grand Union is that it was almost identical to the Foodtown before they did the renovation. The hotdogs were in the same exact place, along with the steak and chicken. They never really moved anything, that store was basically the same layout for 50 years or so. Which of course always gave me the opportunity to tell my son or wife the story about my little giraffe.
“Hey Andres, you see where these steaks are? When I was three years old I left my little rubber giraffe here”. “And no one has ever seen it since”.
Yes, through my foggy memory I remember holding the giraffe and leaning over in the shopping cart by the steak. I was holding the damn thing in my left hand and reaching for something. And yes, I do remember actually putting down the giraffe with the steaks. Why the hell did I do that? Oh right, it was the lead paint I must have been chewing.
Well, when we got home from Grand Union that afternoon, guess what I was missing? My mom searched through all her bags and it was nowhere to be found. She even called the store and spoke to the manager, or at least that’s what she told me.
“Oh, a lost and found, I’ll be right over”.
And now, this is what they call “mother’s love”. My mom actually walked all the way back to Grand Union to look for my giraffe. And sadly returned empty handed.
I was devastated, my little rubber giraffe was gone forever. I certainly lost the "lead" of my life. The year was 1960, and it was never the same without "it".
Today was the first time that I have been in the newly renovated Foodtown. I was shocked to see that they actually moved everything in the store around, including where the meats have always been. My wife has been telling me about it for weeks now, and I must say they are doing a wonderful job. The store really looks great, it's like shopping in the suburbs!
And as I left the store I couldn't help but remember my little rubber giraffe. Thinking that someone may have found it behind the meat compartment while they were renovating the store. Just a half chewed faded yellow and brown rubber toy, sitting in the same dark spot for forty-seven years. With it's two litte eyes just staring into space, and always wondering what ever happened in the "Grand Union" that day back in 1960, when it was left behind.
This morning I had to laugh when I read the story about these two guys that climbed the new Times building across form the Port Authority. They basically climbed a metal ladder that wraps around that building, because that’s how it was designed. They say it’s to save on air conditioning, but let me tell you I’d rather pay Con Ed a few more bucks a month. Because the whole design is quite hiddious, and looks like someone got the blueprints backwards. But that’s just my opinion you know.
Yeah, two guys scaling the outside of a building that basically has a permanent ladder attached to it. No big deal is all I say.
Because you see, back in about 1975 there was little Shawn Gorman and the PS 130 chimney. And the story about what Shawn did that morning never made the headlines, because no one really saw what he did except us. And we knew better than to call the police.
The PS 130 school yard used to be a heck of a lot bigger than it is now. Before the board of education decided to ruin our roller hockey court with more classrooms. Oh, did I say board of education, pardon me, it must be my age. Because "DOE" just sounds like something my grandfather used to hunt for in the Catskills during November. But then again that’s just my opinion you know.
It was just another Sunday morning in Windsor Terrace and there we were as usual using the PS 130 schoolyard as our practice court for roller hockey. I know we used to annoy the poor people that owned the house right behind the schoolyard too. Many a hockey puck deflected off my goalie stick and hit the side of their house, including their windows. I guess the couple that lived there weren’t big hockey fans, they always kept our pucks and cursed at us too. And on a Sunday morning no less, what nerve!
The Gorman’s were a big bunch and usually joined in on our Sunday morning games at the school yard on East 5th and Fort Hamilton. I think they lived somewhere off Church Avenue on the other side of Coney Island Avenue going towards Flatbush. They may have lived above a store too, but I really can’t recall.
Now with all due respect, the Gorman boys were great hockey players. But I think things may have not been perfect once they got home, if you know what I'm saying.
And Shawn, one of the youngest Gorman boys, was a sweet looking kid with red hair and freckles who looked like he just walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except he cursed like a sailor and was always doing these crazy dangerous things to impress his older brothers, and today would be no different.
So there I am in all my goalie equipment waiting for the next puck to be shot. Out of the corner of my eye I see Shawn climbing the side of the school, with his skates on no less. I think it may have been where the auditorium was, it was only one story high and used to stick out from the back of the school facing East 5th.
He somehow climbs up to the top of that structure and then makes a beeline straight to the brick chimney on the side of the school. Now if you ever noticed the chimney of PS 130 it has these insets that almost look like steps. They are about one or two feet away from each other and go all the way up to the top. So Shawn gently places the toe stop of his skates on each step, and wraps his arms around the side of the bricks and starts to slowly scale his way up.
We all start screaming for him to get down including his older brothers who were skating with us.
Well, before you know it Shawn is almost to the top of the brick chimney, with nothing holding him except his nerve. He finally makes it to the summit and then just sits on the top. Like a red headed bird on a flagpole, there was little Shawn Gorman way up in the sky, just giving his brothers the finger, and still wearing his roller skates.
After about fifteen minutes Shawn decided to come down, scaling the side of the chimney in the same manor that he scaled it up in. One skate after the other with both arms wrapped around the bricks until he got to the ground.
Once he was on the pavement his older brothers gave him hell. And Shawn being Shawn just laughed as they were punching him. Just another day in the life of little Shawn Gorman trying to impress the world.
The other day we were walking home from Prospect Park and passed by PS 130. I told my wife and son about how little Shawn Gorman scaled up the side of the school with roller skates and nothing holding him except his nerve. I think they may have chalked it up to another “tall tale” of my childhood in Brooklyn.
But let me tell you, somewhere there’s a forty five year old man named Shawn Gorman. And I’m sure he remembers what the view looked like from the sky, high above Windsor Terrace on a warm Sunday morning back in 1975, while still wearing his roller skates.
My daughter clued me in to this blog -- what a great connection to the Brooklyn of my childhood in the 1950s!
We lived at 1442-35th Street, a little tiny strip of a street between 14th Avenue and Dahill Road. I went to kindergarten at PS 230 (Mrs. Smoller), and to some kind of summer pre-school program at PS 179 (Miss DeMayo). Went to St. Catherine of Alexandria school until fifth grade, when we "moved up in the world" to Staten Island in 1960. But Brooklyn never left me.
We used to go to the movies at the Beverly Theater, and to the ice cream parlor next door (I think it was next door...it was nearby anyway). Once in a great while we went to the Chinese restaurant, I think it was called Yom Tong Tea Garden. My father took us to the Kensington branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. We used to get Italian ices at D'Angelo's.
The picture of the old men under the el playing bocce brought me right back!
Yesterday I had a conversation with someone about people who are "retiring" back to Brooklyn. Yes folks, there are many older people out there who are selling their "Mc Mansions" in the suburbs and buying apartments in the neighborhoods where they grew up, because they want to come home to Brooklyn. I guess the kids are gone, the house is too big, and there's no worry about how "good or bad" the school is around the block.
Something to thin about, huh? Because it's never too late you know. Never.
Fred Cooper could never stand still when he spoke to you. With short black hair parted to the side, a polo shirt and gray polyester pants, Freddie had a voice that was oddly high pitched for a six foot sixteen year old. With his two pudgy hands tucked in his pants pockets, he would gently rock from side to side as he discussed last night’s Ranger game. Freddie always smiled when he spoke too.
Freddie also carried a black briefcase when he went to school, just swinging it by his side as he walked down our block. Freddie had a walk similar to a duck too; his two gigantic brown shoes practically took up the entire sidewalk as he strolled by. Yes, Freddie was sure a “fish out of water” when he walked down East 4th. But then again Freddie was a “Techie” or Brooklyn Tech Student, so that alone may have explained a lot back in 1975.
And we were the East 4th street boys, long hair, engineer boots and bell-bottoms. Just thinking we were “oh so cool”, and then there was Fred Cooper, a kid who looked more like our Grandfathers than us.
But Freddie was a good friend of Robert Brennan our “go to guy”. So no matter what Freddie looked like or sounded like, he was “in” when it came to our block. And besides, Freddie was a real nice kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and probably helped hundreds of Kensington Grandmothers cross the street on Church Avenue. A real sweet kid that Freddie Cooper.
Now, back in 1975 Bartell Pritchard Square was simply known to us as the “Circle” up by the Sanders Movie Theater. Forget Connecticut Muffin, The Pavilion, or any of the other Park Slope places up there now. No, the “Circle” was not a place where you would want to be walking around at nighttime, especially alone.
But knowing Freddie Cooper, I don’t think he thought about it twice, because the “Kind” rarely recognize the “Evil” that the city of Brooklyn breeds.
Freddie would have given his money to any one too. He was probably one of those people you see on the train that always sticks their hands in their pockets as soon as the panhandler walks on. So I know there was no reason why they should have hurt Freddie that night, no, none at all.
And I’m sure the “wolf pack” of kids that attacked Freddie never knew that he may have helped one of their Grandmothers cross Prospect Park West at one time. No, they just saw an innocent victim, a “Gentle Lamb” grazing in their “Lions Den” that night back in 1975.
The knife that stuck out of Freddie’s back just glistened in the Windsor Terrace moonlight. The lights of Bartell Prichard Square reflecting off the long silver blade that was buried deep inside his still warm body. The back of Freddie Cooper’s Blue Brooklyn Tech jacket turned to a horrible dark red. The blood of his body just dripped onto the dirty sidewalk by his side. Fred Cooper breathed his last breath as a sixteen year old that night, and died right there on the dirty sidewalk of Bartell Prichard Square.
A sad and lonely death for a son of Kensington, Brooklyn, A senseless killing of one of the sweetest kids you ever met. I guess Freddie was just in the “wrong place at the wrong time” that’s all. Yeah, how many times have you heard that?
So the next time your up by the Pavilion or having a “Latte” at Connecticut Muffin, say a prayer for Fred Cooper. Because he died on the cold concrete sidewalk of Bartell Pritchard Square so many years ago, in a time before Windsor Terrace was cute and Park Slope was pretty. Somewhere in the Brooklyn of my youth, so many years ago.