Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rev Update...

The Rev seems to be getting better and is making progress according to the medical staff at Maimonides hospital. He is being looked after and can actually walk and feed himself on his own. He's still a little groggy but is starting to laugh like he always did here on the block. We are all hoping and praying that he makes a gigantic recovery and returns to his old apartment here on East Fourth street. So once again folks, lets all say a prayer for the Rev.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pray for the Rev



This past week the Rev suffered a stroke. He's in the hospital right now recovering. Please say a prayer for the Rev and let's hope he someday returns.

The following is a piece I wrote last year...

I have known "Prophet Allen" for just about all my life here on East Fourth. And if my memory serves me right, the "Rev", as all us natives actually know him, moved here sometime in the mid-1960's from
parts unknown.

With a bellowing laugh that could be heard all the way from Church Avenue, "the Prophet" is certainly a living legend of East Fourth, and probably all of Brooklyn as well. Wearing his signature "white" outfits, Prophet Allen can be seen almost every day of the year polishing his automobile of choice to perfection.

And they are usually white as well.

"You know Ron, a clean car means a clean mind"

Yes, I have heard these words mentioned to me many times in the past. And if my mini van is an indicator of how clean my mind is, then I'd probably be doing something very different right now than writing this blog. And I'm sure the "Prophet" would be praying for me right now and cleansing my soul of all its demons.

Yes, Prophet Allen,
A living legend of East Fourth,
and also a good friend of mine.

Long Live the Prophet!

Ron Lopez
Mopar195@yahoo.com

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some Bad Habits at IHM


As I sat in my third grade classroom in PS 179 I could hear them roaring towards us. From my desk I could look out the window and see their long yellow roofs. They parked in front of the school entranceway on Avenue C. With their diesel engines just clattering away, I knew it was my time to go. On every Wednesday at 2 o’clock my stomach would start to hurt. It was time for the public school Christians to leave our sanctuary of bliss and head North up East 3rd street to The Immaculate Heart of Mary school. It was time for “Religious Instructions”. As I gathered my books and headed out the door I looked back and said good bye to Miss Saltzman. She just smiled back at me looking as beautiful as ever in her white go go boots. As I started to walk down the battle ship gray stairs I really started to feel nauseas. But you see I wasn’t alone, about four other
children followed me down. All of us silent, no words ever spoken. “Ronnie are you feeling OK” asked the school bus matron. A friend of my Mom’s whose name always escaped me. I tried to smile at her, but my lips always had a problem arcing up on the sides on a Wednesday afternoon. I always sat in the back of the bus too. Right under the “emergency exit” sign. Maybe hoping it would open up one day and I would just fall out. As the bus driver closed the doors, I closed my eyes. The bustling clatter of the diesel engine got louder as we pulled away and made a left onto East 3rd street. The ride up East 3rd street was the greatest torture. Especially as we passed Church Avenue, because everything I loved was right outside the school bus window, almost within reach. Kennys Toy Store, Lee’s Toy Store and a brand new Pizzeria called “Korner”. All the places I loved to visit with my Mom, yet here I am sitting on a cold school bus seat heading towards my doom. Church Avenue just vanished in the distance behind me. The bus made a left on Fort Hamilton Parkway and gently stopped in front of IHM School. We all silently gathered our belongings and filed out the bus. At this point I would really start to dread them. With my stomach feeling worse I was hoping to start throwing up this time before we got inside. One of them opened a heavy red metal door, dressed only in black, she just stared at us through her little round eyeglasses, not saying a word. The
public school heathens had just arrived. We sat in the classroom, all silent. One of them stood in front of the chalk board, she too was dressed in black with something white around the top of her head. Some kind of hat. Right below her head was a large white disc that looked like it was sawed in two. She held a long wooden yardstick in her wrinkled old hand. She just stood there glaring at us. I could make out her bee bee eyes behind her glasses, they were dark blue. She started to speak, “Now who can tell me about Jesus......And then it happened like it always did. There she was standing in front of the class. She had to be the most beautiful teacher at 179. Miss Saltzman, with beautiful dark eyes and long silky black hair. She had to be a dream, because when she spoke to me I just melted. When I’m old enough I’m going to marry Miss Saltzman, my third grade teacher. And even when she handed me my test papers that usually scored no more than 65. I just stared at her beautiful milky white hands and then her beautiful face, then down her neck to her tight pink sweater and then at her two beautiful full......Wack!, Wack!, Wack!, the tip of the wooden yardstick slammed hard on my desk, just barely missing my little fingers and almost hitting my Timex Dumbo watch that my Mom just bought me for Christmas. “I said wake-up and pay
attention young man!” “Don’t you care about Jesus?” At that point I was too scared to look up at her, I could only stare at the cross that was hanging on her waist with some sad looking skinny man with a long beard nailed to it. “I said look at me when I speak to you!” Now she was screaming at the top of her lungs. “I said look at meeeeeeeeeee.........and that’s when it happened. Without warning it just burst from my stomach, hot and steamy, with little pieces of the hot dog I just had for lunch. And it was all over her black dress, with some of it hitting the little man on the cross. I had just vomited like so many times before, and the “nerve medicine” my Mom gave me every Wednesday morning failed to work, again. I just sat
there frozen and she just stood there silent. “Now go to the boys room and clean yourself up”. I got up from my desk, I could feel evey ones eyes staring at my back as I walked out the door and down to the Boys room. I tried my best to wash myself off and I must have been there for a while, because when I walked out I could see my Mom talking with the Nun outside the classroom. My little sister Isabel was there too, just sitting in her stroller staring at the Nun. We left early that day and as we walked along Fort Hamilton Parkway towards East 4th the Church bells started ringing.
“Mom do I have to go back?” “You know what you have to do Ronnie”
is all my Mom said. Well, I did somehow manage to survive “Religious Instructions” and even made my Communion and Conformation at IHM. All because I knew “What I had to do”, Something thats just in your blood when you’re from Brooklyn. But the truth is even today some 43 later, I still can’t help but feel a little nervous when I see a Nun. The memories of “Religious Instructions”, the bus rides and the vomiting just come back to me like a nightmare. Because you see, even at 50, Some Bad Habits” are just too hard to forget!

Ron Lopez

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Still giving thanks after all these years!

It all started early on Thanksgiving morning, my brother Joseph, little sister Isabel and my cousins Pete and Denise would all either walk up or down their respective flight of stairs to our grandparents apartment on the second floor. We would then camp out on the rug in front of the TV and wait for the start of the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. My grandfather Paco would be sitting on his "Lazy Boy" right behind us all waiting for the show to start. The turkey cooking in the oven usually started in the morning too, and you could just about smell it throughout the entire house. Later in the afternoon the whole family would be there sitting around the dinner table. The voices of my aunt and uncle, grandparents, cousins, brother, sister, mother and father could be heard throughout the hallows of the wooden stairway. Not to mention the dogs barking too. So, I'm thankful for living in an attic apartment with my Mom, Dad, Brother and sister. Being able to grow up with the entire family in one big house, on one great block, in the City of Brooklyn. And still have all those wonderful memories to write about for now and the years to come.
And Hey, Still giving thanks after all these years!

Ron Lopez

Friday, September 23, 2011

Donald and the F train


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. But the
memory of that day will stay with me forever,
because Donald was a friend of mine.

So the next time you see someone riding
the F-train with a bundle of sorrow.
Think about my friend Donald, and never
ever feel that you’re better than anyone else.
Because someday that person might just be you.

Ron Lopez

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I always knew this...

Kensington/Boro Park Tops List of Safest Brooklyn Neighborhoods
September 7th, 2011 11:55 pm
In a “Crime & Safety” report issued by DNA/Info and detailed in AM/NY, Kensington/Boro Park ranks at the top of its list of the 5 safest Brooklyn neighborhoods and is considered the third safest neighborhood in the entire city.

CRIME IN BROOKLYN

5 safest neighborhoods
1. Kensington and Borough Park
2. Bensonhurst
3. Sheepshead Bay
4. Bay Ridge
5. Windsor Terrace

5 least safe neighborhoods
1. Brownsville
2. Fort Greene and Clinton Hill
3. Bedford-Stuyvesant
4. Brooklyn Heights
5. East New York

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Little Help Here??



My friends in the Catskills got slammed by Irene. No, it was no joke here and many towns were destroyed. Please help the folks up here by donating something. Here is some info about where to donate:

http://www.watershedpost.com/2011/catskills-flooding-hurricane-irene-relief-and-recovery-resources

Thanks,
Ron

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Sewer Cap


We could hear the sound of the engine accelerating from the far reaches of Church Avenue. The moan of the small block V8 was fast approaching, its demise was in reach.

“This is going to be a good one,” someone said.

We all quickly got up from my front stoop and ran into the street. Our eyes were all fixed on a late model olive colored Pontiac, it looked like a 68 or 69 GTO. As it raced down East 4th and approached Beverley we prepared ourselves for that horrible sound.
A familiar sound we heard hundreds of times before, a sound that wounded or killed many a car engine or Torque flight transmission. Or maybe worse, ripped an entire motor from its warm enamel painted nest.

As the racing Pontiac crossed Beverley, it’s front nose quickly dipped downwards towards the asphalt. From the distance it looked as though it’s four headlights and painted rubber bumper were gently kissing the black-top below. But then in an instant its face lifted upwards towards the Brooklyn skies above.

BAAAAM! BAAAAM!

With two quick hard hits to its stomach, the Pontiac bounced up and down like a child’s toy. Blue smoke and sparks quickly seized the area under its hot undercarriage. From a high speed one moment to a slow crawl the next, the grasp of the monster had just ripped its guts out right before our very own eyes.

The sound was so loud you could probably hear it from Greenwood Avenue too. It was the sound of metal being crushed and bolts being ripped from the flesh of the car. A transmission pan being slashed down it’s belly, or even worse a heavy steel frame snapping in two.

It was the sound of automotive death on a warm Kensington day.

The Pontiac slowly limped down our block, spewing blood and entrails behind its broken tin shell and warm red tail lights.
The 350 four barrel was just “chugging” a slow horrible song,
gone was the glorious melody of its real V8 power.

The driver quickly pulled over to the right in front of an apartment house, the Margaret Court across the street. He quickly got out of the car holding the top of his head. He was all right, but the force of the impact must have lifted him off his seat and into the air, hitting his head on the roof of his car.

The Pontiac was still smoking and spewing both white and blue smoke. Through the mist of its destruction you could see that the body was broken in two. The nose looking downwards at the ground, while the taillights were angled upwards looking towards
Windsor Terrace.

Yes, this was indeed a bad one, for the Pontiac looked dead.

The driver just stood there staring at the car, and then turned around and slowly walked away up the block. He made a left on to Beverley Road and was never seen again.

That GTO must have been there for what seemed like months.
Like the corpse of a great racehorse, it just lied there rotting in the Kensington summer sun. Until one day it was gone, leaving us only with a puddle of motor oil and red transmission fluid.

Just another insurance payout in the Boro of my birth.

And even today, some thirty-five years later, I still slow down before I cross East 4th street at Beverley. Just taking it real slow and gentle before I get to my house.

I guess some habits are just hard to break you know.

Because you see, a long time ago there was a horrible iron monster that lived in the street. It was probably just a few inches too high for it’s own good. Heavy cast iron, with holes for its eyes. And I’m sure it must have weighed well over a hundred pounds, and took more than one man to move.

And it had the blood of a hundred cars on its face and always thirsted for more. It was murderer plain and simple and proudly bared it’s name to all, never caring when it killed. Just heavy bold letters and in capitals no less, forever reminding us of its deadly presence here
in Brooklyn.

And if the name wasn’t tearing apart the bellies of cars, it was instead emptying the bank accounts of New Yorkers with blue and white bills being slid through a mail slot.

A long time ago there was a killer on the loose
and it sat at the edge of my block.
It showed no mercy and never picked favorites.

So just drive slowly my Kensington friends,
and remember the deadly
"CON EDISON" manhole cover.

Because it’s long gone now,
and only a distant memory
in the Kensington of my youth.

Ron Lopez

Friday, July 8, 2011

Joe Mirada's Pet Store


I think Joe Mirada’s pet store was somewhere way down Church Avenue near 36th street.
And from what I remember as a kid, the place was a very, very long walk from East Fourth.

A small, smelly pet store that may have been in “Gods Country” for a reason you know, far removed from all the grocery stores and fruit stores that lined the heart of our Church Avenue. And for anyone who grew up in Kensington, the “Heart” of Church Avenue was anywhere between McDonald Avenue and Ocean Parkway.

So here was this pet store way the hell down Church Avenue and almost in Boro Park. Yeah, maybe because it smelled so much the rest of the merchants told old Joe Mirada to stay as far away as possible.

But still when you’re a kid you’re going to
find a pet store no matter where it is.

And even if it's practically in Boro Park

“Hey Joey, did you hear that Joe Mirada’s
selling hamsters for a dollar?”

I remember that day quite well; I was playing on my front porch with my cousin Pete, my brother Joseph and Johnny Reilly from the Margaret Court across the street.

“Here, take a look at the one Kevin and I just bought”

There inside a cardboard milk container with the top sliced off was this small brown looking thing that looked something like a rat. It seemed to be sniffing around with barely any room to turn it’s little body in the confines of the sour smelling Borden’s milk carton. There was also a bed of shredded paper underneath it as well; it’s tiny teeth just chewing away at the remains of yesterday’s Daily News.

“So guys, what do you think?”
“There only a dollar and Joe Mirada
said he just has a a few left”.

Now when I was growing up my older brother always made the “corporate” decisions, not me. And maybe it was because he was almost two years older than me, I don’t know. So when it came to things like when we were going to ride our bikes, or roll tires down our driveway and hit a car, it was always Joseph who made
the decisions.

“Ronnie, go upstairs and see if mom can give you a dollar, tell her it’s for ice cream from Morris. But DO NOT tell her it’s because we want to buy a hamster. You understand?

“But Joey, you know mom hates mice”

“It’s not a mouse you idiot, it’s a hamster”.

“Now just go upstairs and ask mommy for a dollar”

Well, I asked my mom for a dollar, came back downstairs and we were on our way to Joe Mirada’s pet store. I remember it was a very hot summer’s day as we rode our bikes there. A caravan of bicycles on two wheels and training wheels, making their way down the hot gum dotted sidewalks of Church Avenue to the “End of the Earth”.
Well, almost Boro Park, but that might as well have been the end of the earth to us.


“Oh I see we have more customers,
I bet you kids are here for the hamsters right?”

Now from what I remember Joe Mirada was this short little Italian man who always wore checkered shirts. The store like I mentioned earlier smelled to high heaven, and given it was a hot summer’s day in Kensington Brooklyn, the smell today was worse than it usually was.

Joe Mirada stuck his hand inside a cage and pulled out this little brown thing that looked something like a rat. He quickly put it inside another Borden’s quart milk container and handed it to my
brother Joseph.

“Here you go kid, that will be one dollar”

My brother handed Joe Mirada the dollar, and in return Joseph was handed a smelly Borden’s milk container with something inside of it that looked very much like a rat. I was sure my mom was going to have a fit when she saw it. But I would never tell my brother, because it was his decision to buy it. And that was that.

So we got on our bikes and slowly moved Eastward towards East Fourth. Spoke wheels, and solid silver wheels just spinning away until we finally made it back to the concrete confines of our front porch with our little hamster and the smelly milk carton.

Now, we may have even been trying to play with it somehow, I can’t quite remember. And just like Johnny Reilly’s hamster, it had the hardest time trying to turn its little body inside the bottom of the empty quart of milk barely able to move.

"Hey Joey, see if it wants to play with this stick"

Johnny Reilly handed my brother a small twig from
our front bushes and he threw it into the carton.

The hamster just looked at it and did nothing.

"Oh well, maybe it's tired"

But then suddenly we saw our mom walking up the block,
and unlike my brother, I knew it was all going to be over real soon.

“What are you boys doing with those milk containers?”
“Is there something inside”?

Now this is one of those moments you
always remember and tell your kids about.

My mom slowly leaning over to look inside the carton,
and then her loud blood curdling screams.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

I think my mother’s screams could be heard all the way from Church Avenue on that warm summer’s day. The hamster just spun in circles at the bottom of the carton as she screamed and screamed. The milk container bellowing outwards at the bottom from the hamster's attempted escape.

You see I knew my mom hated mice,
yet my brother wanted to buy the hamster
and I was powerless.

“GET IT AWAY, GET IT AWAY!”

My brother Joseph put his hand over the top of the carton trying to shield the hamster from my mom’s screaming. Yet you can still hear it scurrying around in circles on top of it’s bed of shredded Daily News.

“But mom, it was only a dollar at Joe….”

“TAKE IT BACK NOW!!!!”
“TAKE IT BACK NOW!!!!”

“I don’t want to see that thing in my house, you understand!”

Well, the rest is history folks, we went back to Joe Mirada’s
and returned the hamster, and I’m sure he gave my brother
the dollar back as well.

But I never dared to tell my brother "I told you so".
Because he'd kick my ass you know.

Yes, Joe Mirada’s pet store, the hamster, and my mother’s screams.
Just another day in the Kensington of my youth, so many years ago.

Ron Lopez
Mopar195@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

90 Church


You know those subjects you can’t bring up at the dinner table, the ones that get some people mad. No, were not talking about politics or religion here, it’s something worse. You see back in the summer of 1956 my grandmother and grandfather decided to take a stab at the big fat cash cow called
“Church Avenue”.

Now, Church Avenue has always been excellent when it came to simple “foot traffic”, even back in the summer of 1956. Except for one slight problem according to my grandfather “Paco”. The more affluent people with money in their pockets simply made the left from the F-Train and walked along Church to Ocean Parkway.
They never looked towards Dahill Road or even bothered to give it a second thought.

The name of my grandmothers store was “Isabel’s”; it was located at 90 Church Avenue. Basically the cash cows “tail”, which rarely moved to swat a fly no less.

My grandmother Isabel was always a working woman you see. And she usually held positions such as supervisor or “floor lady” wherever she worked. One of her specialties was hand-made lampshades, and she was proud of her position at Krasnours Lamp Shade Factory on Prince street in Manhattan. She was the floor lady there; basically supervising the workers to make sure the quality of the shades were up to standard. A job she held for many years until she decided to give her own business a shot one day.

So with the knowledge of Kensington and a “store for rent” sign at
90 Church, my grandparents took a plunge into owning their
own business.

The grand opening was sometime in the summer of 1956. They sold custom-made silk lampshades, imported plates, crystal, porcelain figurines and various other “high end “ knick-knacks. The entire family worked there and helped to keep it a float. My mom, dad, aunt Dolores, and uncle Pete helping out my grandmother and grandfather any way they could. Making deliveries, working the register or taking the F-Train to Canal street to buy the lamp shade skeletons that gave them their shapes.

I always remember my grandfathers face getting red when he used to talk about “the store”.

“What a waste of money, we should have invested in
another property instead”. “God damn store!”.

Now you have to remember that as kids growing up we only heard about “the store”, because it closed down before my cousins and I were even born. Although we knew something had happened once, there was an entire room in the basement full of lampshade skeletons, rolls of silk material, plates and porcelain figurines. And a wonderful large old-fashioned gold cash register in the garage. A huge monster that just sat in the corner gathering dust. As kids we used to play with it, pushing hard down on the buttons to make a metal numeral flip up in a glass window. Or just hide Matchbox or Hotwheels cars in the coin slots.

“There they go, never walking this way” said my grandfather Paco standing in front of the store at 90 Church Avenue.

“This side of Church Avenue is invisible, this store may as well be in the middle of the woods up in the country”.

“With all their money in their pockets, they just walk to their castles in the sky on Ocean Parkway”.

“The people that walk past this store are the working class poor, who only look and never buy”.

My grandmother just looked at my grandfather and said;
“You mean just like us?”

My grandfather just shook his head and my grandmother just kept working away, cutting patterns and sewing the beautiful silk shades and hoping for a miracle. Because she always believed that those who worked hard survived, and they both survived the great depression right here in New York City. My grandfather Paco selling Good Humor ice cream off his back in Central Park and my grandmother making hand made silk flowers from their apartment on Pearl street in downtown Brooklyn. Now the site of Metrotech.

So there was going to be no giving up here,
at least not without a fight.

I remember it was something like 1984 when we sold the cash register. I think my aunt listed it in the Buy Lines. And it must have weighed at least 100 pounds. My cousin Pete and I both helped the man carry it to his car. I think he gave us 25 dollars for it. He was opening up his own business somewhere here in Brooklyn, and he liked the old fashioned register. We tried selling the lampshade skeletons back in 1990, the man who looked at them thought they were beautiful, but the rust on them was too much and would only destroy the silk. When he was leaving we even offered them for free, he just smiled and said “no thanks”.

With rent being paid on time and little business coming in, the store closed about two years after it opened. There was no meat on this “cows tail”, and my grandfather Paco always had his reservations about that side of Church Avenue. And unfortunately he was right.

My Dads 1957 Plymouth station wagon pulled up in front of 90 Church Avenue that day. All the contents of the store were hauled to our house at 399. The inventory was split between my aunt’s old room, the basement and the garage.

A month later the store was for rent again.

The lamp shades made great props for parties when we wore them on our heads as teenagers. And not to mention there was always an endless supply of porcelain doll eyes for us to look into as kids, constantly worried that they would move, or blink.

I spoke to my aunt Dolores the other day, and she said the basic story about her mothers store could be summed up as “wrong place in the wrong time”. I laughed and told her that grandma would have made a killing in today’s Park Slope with a store like that. She said that grandma would have loved to open the store in Manhattan, but just couldn’t afford the rent.

But not all family stories have crash landings like “Isabel’s”. About ten years after my grandmothers store closed, her niece Dolores and husband Buzzy opened up another place you may have heard of. Its still called the “Buzzarama” and managed to survive over forty years on the “cows tail” of Church Avenue.

And my grandfather Paco, well he always believed real estate was your best bet and bought two hundred acres of land in upstate New York. Right before the store fiasco and just five years after he bought 399 East 4th. So “Isabel’s” was just a bump in the road, a bad decision, and a “wrong place at the wrong time”. Sure they lost money with the store and it made my grandfathers face turn red at the dinner table. But hell, that one hundred pound cash register was sure fun to play with along with those dozens of lampshades on New Years Eve.

And like they say, if you never try, you'll never know.


Ron Lopez
Mopar195@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Goldfeather


He used to walk up my block when I was a kid. He was a short man maybe in his 50’s. He had black hair, a moustache and thick “Buddy Holly” style glasses.
Sam usually wore a brown overcoat in
the winter and a sports jacket in the summer. He could always be seen wearing a brown or black derby too.

Now Sam also walked with a cane, except most of the time it was never touching the sidewalk. Instead he used it to point at people.

“Hey ya bum ya, you fuckin bum”

those words were Sams trademark as he walked up East 4th.
And he usually uttered them when he was drunk.

Now, we were never mean to Sam, and actually liked him. Even when he called us “fuckin bums”, because we may have been only five or six years old at the time and actually thought he was funny. So there he would stand with a newspaper under his arm, his face flushed red and a bottle sticking out of his coat pocket. His old cane right in our faces as we played in front of our house.

“Hey you know what you are?”
“A FUCKIN BUM!”.

We would all start laughing at this point because Sam always had a smile on his face when he cursed at us.

“Thats Goldfeather,
Sam Goldfeather”

And then he would slowly walk up the block towards Avenue C.
Just pointing his cane at anyone he saw until he vanished around
the corner.

And then there was Sam’s brother Irving Goldfeather” who looked strikingly similar to Sam. Except Irving was always seen walking in the opposite direction towards Beverly Road. Usually on his way to work in the morning. Yet, Sams brother was quiet and businesslike and would always tip his hat to my Mom and say:

“Good morning Mrs. Lopez, a beautiful day isn’t it?.

“Mom, why don’t Sam and Irving ever walk together?”

My mom would usually just say that “Maybe Sam sleeps late”.

Then one day Sam told us while waving his cane in our faces that he was moving to Florida and wouldn’t be around anymore. He said his brother Irving would be staying, and for us to be nice to him.
Well, I guess I was pretty naive because I must have been in High School before I figured out that they were actually the same person. And Sam did a pretty good show holding a job during the day only to drink his problems away at the bars on Church Avenue, and then from his pocket before he got home. But truth is from that day on we only saw his brother Irving walking up and down the block. And he never cursed, always wished my Mom a good day, and only walked with his cane touching the sidewalk.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Donald and the F-train


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. But the
memory of that day will stay with me forever,
because Donald was a friend of mine.

So the next time you see someone riding
the F-train with a bundle of sorrow.
Think about my friend Donald, and never
ever feel that you’re better than anyone else.
Because someday that person might just be you.

Ron Lopez

Friday, May 20, 2011

Catskill Webcam @ 3:00 pm Today


Big Sky Time in the Catskills

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Beverly


The next time you’re walking from the subway on Church Avenue, make sure to make a left into the "T-Mobile Store".

Take out that two dollars you have in your pocket, and hand it to the lady in the ticket booth on the side where that guy sells all the hats
and gloves.

She will probably not smile and give you a small "Admit One" ticket. You will then walk up the long entranceway that leads inside the Beverly and immediately start to smell stale popcorn. But not to worry, because you see them popping it in the machine on the other side of the heavy wooden doors.

As you open the door to the go inside, a young man will be standing there to take your ticket. You hand it to him and he rips it in two, one half goes into a wooden box, the other you put in your pocket.

Hey, how about some fresh popcorn and a Coke? You walk up to the concession stand and immediately notice a roach under the glass, walking upside down. You pass on the popcorn and opt for "Snow Caps" instead. You hand the woman a dollar and wait for your change, you think for a second about telling her you saw a roach.

But hey, this is the Beverly and Church Avenue isn't exactly Madison. So you just walk away and up the ramp that leads to the main theater. And there it is again, no matter how many times you've been to the Beverly the chandelier that’s bigger than a house is just beautiful as ever, hanging from the ceiling. It must have over a thousand lights, and hundreds and hundreds of crystals. It simply gleams like a star in the darkness, even though it's covered with dust.

The 70's have not been good to the Beverly and you wonder what that place was like when your Mom was young. Did the screen still have that giant stain on it? Was the floor always sticky? were the seats always torn?. Suddenly the lights dim to black, the screen awakens and the movie starts.

You just sit there staring at that big magnificent chandelier, its crystals still sparkling in the darkness, and you can't help but imagine a Beverly that you never knew, a long, long time ago.

Ron Lopez

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Morris


His fingers, yes there was something so beautiful about his fingers.
They were the longest and most gentle fingers you have ever seen.

And he stood like a giant too.
He had legs that just seemed to go on forever, and arms that could reach as far as the Brooklyn Bridge.

Oh, his uniform, let me tell you about his uniform. It was always the brightest of white you know, and clean as a whistle. He also wore a little white hat too, it looked something like a ship captains hat.

And with long nicotine stained fingers as cold as ice and as yellow as corn, Morris would gently pick the change out of the palm of your hand and then lean down and give you your ice cream bar.

Yeah, just like the giant in “Gulliver’s Travels”, that was Morris.

I think he also wore one of those change machines on his belt too, it was silver and had these different cylinders for pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes.

You see,
Morris was our ice cream man.
Not anyone else’s ice cream man.
No, just ours alone.

The bells on his truck had a very distinctive ring too. They jingled like those on Santa’s sleigh. Full of music, full of life. Nothing at all like the cheap sound of the Good Humor man. No, Morris’s bells were probably made of sterling silver instead of tin.

And what made Morris special to us was his kindness. Pure gentle kindness from a man who probably would have scared the living daylights out of anyone if he wasn’t dressed in an ice cream
man’s uniform.

You see Morris had to stand about six feet five, was as skinny as a flagpole and chain-smoked to no end. From what I remember too, he smoked the same brand as my dad. That distinctive “Camel” could always be seen sticking out of his shirt pocket.

And Morris also died young, just like my dad. Too many “Camels” bought him a headstone way before his time, and only left us with a nasty Good Humor man who never liked us.

Yeah, I could just see him like it was yesterday, his truck parked on Avenue C between East 3rd and East 4th, long tall and lean standing there like a gentle giant. Waiting for us hand him our dimes and quarters after another day at PS 179.

And if you didn’t have enough money, Morris would let you slide and pay him another day. Or he would even break an ice pop in two pieces, if you only had a nickel. Just the gentle kindness of a man who drove an ice cream truck and knew all our names.

Yes, The ice cream man of Kensington.
Not anyone else’s ice cream man.
No, just ours alone.

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Popsicle Stick by Jimmy Spinner


Jimmy Spinner is one of my closest friends
that grew up on East Fourth.
Although he's a lot younger than me,
something like six or seven years.
He always seemed to be older than his
age and pretty wise too.

Some real good stuff here from
a real son of Kensington.


The Popsicle Stick
An autobiographical short story
by Jimmy Spinner



As children we cling to the remnants of the popsicle well after the flavored ice is gone. We savor the traces left on the small wooden stick until those tiny splinters start to hurt our tongue and we are forced to move on.

I was always cursed or blessed, depending on how you look at it, with the writer's ability to recognize moments. Even as a little kid on East 4th Street in Brooklyn I could feel myself as the protagonist in some grandiose play. The soundtrack of my life playing in the background would more than likely be the 70's A.M. pop that the girls on my block were collecting as 45's.

The setting of this play was my block. That's what we called it "our block." That was our haven. The boundaries were simple East 4th Street between Beverly Road and Avenue C. As we rode our bikes up and down the block the feeling of safety that we had would dissipate as we moved towards either avenue. It was just a feeling but as you passed Dr. Langsam's house, the last private house on the block, something changed.
It might only be a matter of feet but all of a sudden it wasn't our block anymore.

What a great place to grow up. Our neighborhood was working class Irish and Italian so there was a ton of kids. Catholics you know. All we did was play, mostly sports, depending on the season. The big sports were stickball in the summer and roller hockey in the winter. We had some pretty good athletes, at least that's the way I remember it, and the competition was fierce. There was Tommy Brennan, a few years younger than most of us, our goalie. Jimmy Breyer, a tall drink of water and the only boy of seven kids, our token red head who went into a psychosomatic slump every summer during stickball season. James Yannone, also known as Bubba because he was our fat kid, if he argued vehemently with you and shook his head NO from side to side the fat would roll in waves. The best part of arguing with Bubba was if things got out of hand, his older sisters would show up and man were they gorgeous. We all had crushes on Rose and Joanne. Picture a cross between Marie Osmond and Annette Funicello. I also have to mention my next door neighbors, Big Pete Competello the smartest kid on our block. He was so smart they skipped him twice. He leaped from 2nd to 4th grade and from 6th to 8th! And his cousin, Little Pete Savino the toughest little left wing I ever met. Our houses were separated as were all of the houses on the block, by an alleyway about the width of a small car.

We were a tight knit group. We shared our secrets. We were practically inseparable. Which brings me to my Best Friend, John Tracy, nicknamed Tweety we were inseparable. Tweety was the fastest kid on our block. He was small, brown wavy hair, Mets t-shirt,cut-off jeans shorts. We did everything together. A game wasn't as much fun for either of us if we were not on the same team. We were so tight that our families became close. We vacationed together in the Poconos. Our father's coached our little league teams together. We went to our first Met game together. We were always eating or sleeping over each other's houses. Like a married couple that's been together for a while, people started to say that we even looked alike.

The routine was the same every summer day. We rushed to see who would be the first one "out." It was then that person's responsibility to ring everyone else's bell to get our whole gang out. We would then meet at the sewer in the middle of the street in front of Tommy Brennan's house that served as our home plate for stickball games. We would choose up teams and then play stickball until lunchtime. For lunch we'd beg a buck from our Mom and then grab our skateboards and skate up to Church Avenue, en masse to get a slice of Pizza and a Coke at Korner Pizzeria, still the best I have ever had. We'd probably wreak a little havoc in the stores on the avenue until we'd wear out our welcome.

We'd usually get chased back to the friendly confines of our block for some more stickball. The only time the routine changed was if we had a good old fashioned thunder storm. Then we would pitch baseball cards or play board games on somebody's porch until the rain let up.

Usually we would chase that little pink rubber ball and run the bases between those sewers until six o'clock or so as the dad's started to come home from work. Then it would be time for dinner so our game would break up.

Mr. Competello, the plumber, usually came home first and made Pete kiss him hello every night, which we all thought was weird. Then the remaining fathers would appear in rapid succession between 5 and 6 o'clock. Then East 4th Street was silent, all you could hear was the sound of evening traffic lolling slowly down our street.

After dinner we waited for the bells of the ice cream man.
We had two ice cream men in our neighborhood. We had the Good Humor man, Mr. Corporate America in his clean and pressed white uniform. Good Humor sent a different guy every year in his sparkling new truck and that didn't sit right with us, we'd only buy ice cream from the Good Humor man as a last resort. We did however buy a lot of ice cream from Morris, our grandfatherly figure in his beat up old ice cream truck, with its collage of stickers displaying that summer's wares. Morris was part of our neighborhood, he was as much a fixture as the church steeple. White haired, rail thin, Morris was the underdog and he tugged at our working class hearts.

It was the summer of '76, Elton John's "Daniel" was topping the charts and my friends and I were eating our ice cream on the stoop in front of my house when I had one of those Moments. I remember distinctly glancing down the line of my boyhood friends and thinking, "It's never going to be any better than this. How much fun do we have? No responsibility, playing games all day, eating ice cream. I hope this never changes but I know it's going to."

And things were about to change and I was an agent of that change.

Every morning during the school year, Tweety and I would walk up East 4th Street and trek the 6 long blocks in our school uniforms to Immaculate Heart of Mary School. The only place Tweety and I were separated was at school. For the 8 years of grammar school, we were tracked by "ability." The way we called it, I was in the smart class (8-1) and Tweety was in the middle class (8-2) .

With this tracking, I was with the kids from the "1" class from first grade to eighth grade. We became a pretty tight-knit group, Sully, Chrissy Ryan, Mark Bowen, Jean Ann Powers and Jimmy Quinlan. We gave Quinlan the nickname Quint, remember it was the 70’s and Jaws was the hot movie. Quint was one of my best buddies at school. He was sharp as a tack, a wise-ass extraordinaire and a real live wire. This kid invented ADHD before any of us had ever heard of the diagnosis. He was also the most popular with the girls at school. He had that upturned Kevin Bacon nose and the confidence that comes from knowing you're good looking. Needless to say Quint was a lot of fun to hang out with. He seemed to raise the level of excitement. Quint was from East Seventh Street, a world away from East Fourth Street when you’re a kid.

As we moved up in the grades however, our parents began to expand the territory in our neighborhood we were allowed to venture to on our own. By 7th grade, East Seventh Street had become a reasonable destination. As a result I had started spending time on East 7th Street with Quinlan.
The Quinlan's had a big house and a nice backyard, Jimmy's father was a Lt. in the NYC Police department so his family was pretty well-off by our neighborhood's standards. And by 7th grade Jimmy was already wearing Levi's and Pro-Keds while the rest of us were still buying our clothes at Sears. It was always fun and exciting to leave the friendly confines of East 4th Street and venture off to unknown worlds.

After spending the day with Quint and his friends, jumping off of garage roofs and stealing Milky Ways from the local news stand, I would walk the 4 or so blocks back to East 4th Street. I can still see the hurt look on my friends' faces when they interrupted whatever game they were in the middle of to ask,
"Spinner, where yah been?

There started to be an ebb and flow to this routine. Once or twice a week I would go to Quinlan's after school. As my horizon's expanded, I started to look at my East 4th Street friends differently. They seemed like little kids. Part of me liked that and part of me was embarrassed by that. Little kids play hide and seek and flip baseball cards, and I loved doing all of those things. Little kids also wear little kids clothes and rarely shower and don't really care what they look like which really wasn't a problem until I started hanging out with Quint. He started "coaching" me on what kind of clothes to wear and where to get my hair cut. "Spinner what are you a little kid? You're wearing Tough Skins and dirty t-shirts and reject sneakers? You're never gonna get any girls like that!" So I gave in to the peer pressure and begged my Mom to get me some Levi's and some "big kids" clothes.

Eventually, I invited Quint to my block. That's when everything changed. I can still picture it, we were in the middle of a stickball game and I could see him sauntering up the street. It was almost like the music changed in the background. All of a sudden I looked around at my friends and I was embarrassed, I tried to distance myself from them. He came up to home plate and said,
"Spinner, what are you doin'?"
"I'm playing stickball. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Stickball? That's for little kids. Don't you have anything fun to do on this block?"

And that was it, I told my friends I was going to do something else. Tommy Brennan looked at me as if I had punched him in the stomach and said, "But we're in the middle of a game?" As we walked away Quint snickered, "You're hanging out with these little kids?"

I started to increase the time I spent with Quint. We dragged Tweety with us as he was still my best friend. After this, my boyhood friends started treating me differently and rightfully so. I can picture them all in their minds saying, "Oh sure Spinner you only hang out with us when your cool friends aren’t around."

Quint started to come around East 4th Street more often and eventually it was the three of us Quinlan, Tweety and Spinner. At some point Quint showed up with girls. And they were cute and pretty and they made us act different.

One of the girls was Cathy Cavanaugh, the prettiest girl in our school. She hung around with two other girls we knew from school, Carolyn Leaver, small petite, long straight brown hair down to her butt and Marie McKay, freckles and black hair. All three were cute and I started to realize it was a perceived danger/excitement that was bringing them around, there was a certain electricity in the air when the three of us were together. They liked us. They thought we were funny and laughed at our jokes.

And here's another of those Moments. Someone got the bright idea that we should play Hide-and-Seek. I remember thinking we're in 8th grade and we're going to play a kids game? But it was all Quint's idea to get us alone with the girls so we could "make out." I remember panicking and dragging Tweety and Quint away from the crowd and whispering, "I don't know what I'm doing, what if Carolyn wants to kiss me?" Quint and Tweety laughed and said in unison, "That's the whole idea." Eventually Quint said to me, "Don't worry about it Spinner just act like you know what you're doing and let her lead. She's probably kissed somebody already. You just kind of stick your tongue in there and swish it around a little bit. You'll be fine."

So we went back out to the front porch of my house. Somebody was chosen as "it" and counted out loud, "One-Two-Three…" We scattered to hide. Unbeknownst to me the girls and Quint had orchestrated where we would all hide. I wound up in the hedges along the side of Mrs. Brody's house with Carolyn Leaver. There we were giggling and out of breath, in very close quarters, with the sound of someone yelling, "Ready or Not here I come!" in the background. And that's the MOMENT. I remember thinking, "Here I am in one of the hiding spots from my childhood, playing Hide-and-Seek, and I'm about to kiss a GIRL!."

A few weeks later, I was standing at home plate, with the stickball bat in my hand, when my mother screamed, "Jimmy telephone!" from the front porch of my house a few doors away. I pulled the bat down and yelled, "Who is it Mah, we're in the middle of a game!" I heard her say, "I think it's Tweety," as I watched her apron fluttered back into the house. I put the bat down, amid the protests of my friends, and said I'd be right back. Running into the house I picked up the phone and said, "Hello." All I remember was Quint saying, "Spinner get your ass over here right now, we got beer." I asked how he got it or something stupid like that and he said, "Don't worry about it just get your ass over here now." So I hung up the phone, looked guiltily at my mom and walked out of the house. I walked right past the stickball court, "Spinner where are you going? We're in the middle of a game."
"I know." I said, "But I gotta go."

And here was another one of those Moments. I remember looking at my boyhood friends, stuck in their innocence and thinking, "I'm going to drink a beer. Am I allowed to do this? Should I just stay here? I'd rather be 10 years old like Tommy Brennan and not have to make these decisions right now." But I went. I knew if I didn't show up they'd call me a pussy and I'd probably miss a lot of fun. And I wanted to drink the beer. That's what the MEN in my neighborhood did, they worked hard and they drank beer. So at 14 years old I drank my first beer.

Things really started to reel out of control after that. I was torn in so many directions. I missed my friends from my block. I missed playing hide-and-seek. I wasn't ready to give up my baseball cards. But I enjoyed hanging with this cool crowd, even if it was tough. We did have a lot of fun, and we were hanging out with girls.

One night, late in the summer, Quint, Tweety, the girls and I we were hanging out on my stoop, eating ice cream. News of a liquor store hold-up and a shooting on Church Avenue traveled quickly up the block. Everyone ran the two blocks to the scene. There were cop cars and ambulances with lights flashing. The smell of blood and adrenaline was in the air. The crowd was full of the usual know-it-alls who were the first on the scene. Whispers of, "They shot the guy." "The old man who owned the liquor store shot a junkie as he was running down the block" "Shot him in the head." "He's dead." "How the hell did that old man hit him?"

We all stayed at the scene for a while, trying to get a peak at the victim. We were all drawn to the scene. We grew up in a rough neighborhood but this was big news no matter how you looked at it. Eventually, they took the victim away in an ambulance. The crowd started to disperse. All of us kids wound up in a circle around a pool of blood. It was huge, about the size of a manhole cover and it had been sitting a while so a skin had started to form on top. We just stood there staring at it. Quinlan, Tweety, Myself on one side of the circle and Big Pete, Little Pete, Bubba & company on the other side of the circle. We were all repulsed and drawn to it at the same time. We stood there saying nothing, or things like, "Oh man", or "Shit, I can't believe this happened." When all of a sudden, Tommy Brennan took his popsicle stick out of his mouth, gave the crowd a sly look, raised his hand slightly and tossed that stick into the middle of the coagulating pool of blood. I remember everyone turning away in unison. I can still see Tommy's smiling face, thinking he had done something really cool. And I remember looking at that popsicle stick and looking at Tommy and my friends from my block and realizing that we were different somehow. The fact that Me, Quint or Tweety would not have thrown that popsicle stick in that pool of blood seemed to mean something. As we turned to walk away these two groups of my friends went in opposite directions. And that seemed symbolic to me. Glancing over my shoulder as my boyhood friends headed back to my block I knew then that this choice I was making would effect the rest of my life…

Jimmy Spinner

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Comment From Joe...

Wow, I definitely remember the Chesterfield. I spent many, many of my college age nights there (1980-1984). It's been a long time but it was around Glenwood Road, give or take a block. It was the first and only topless bar in our area of Brooklyn me and my friends knew about. Later we discovered another one also on Flatbush Ave. a few blocks north off of Ditmas Ave. We went in one night and were the only white guys in there! Kind of like the bar scene from "Animal House"! Anyway, Chesterfield had 2 rotating older bartenders; a hefty Irish guy named Billy and a feisty 'broad' named Dixie. A 7 oz Bud was only $1. until 8 pm when the girl started to dance for the night. Then they were like $3 or so. So we would get there around 7pm and pound a bunch of Bud nips before the price went up! There was another woman pushing 70 at the time (whose name escapes me) who would waitress the few tables & booths there. She was a burlesque dancer in her day, and there were some pictures hanging up of her from that time. She looked pretty darn good and was well-endowed. She would occasionally hop up on the stage and do this sort of jerky dance and lift up her top, exposing her old lady mega-bra! Somewhat disturbing now but back then it cracked us up. There was a Chinese take-out place right across the street that had a thick plexiglass barrier like banks do. It wasn't the best of neighborhoods there if you remember. We would stumble across Flatbush all drunk to get some food, making fun of the workers there while we waited. Not cool, I know, but we were young, drunk and stupid. Anyway, thanks for reminding me of that place and all the great nights I had there. All the best. - Joe A.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Snake Bridge



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.

Matt Millbauer

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Elmore's of Huntley Hollow



Today I was very saddened to see the Elmore's place for sale up near our house in the Catskills. That's because we knew the Elmore's and played with all their children. Gerry Elmore, Sharon Elmore, Debbie Elmore, Carol Elmore, Charlie Elmore, Sandy Elmore, and I'm sure more kids that I just can't remember. Last year Gerry Elmore passed away and I heard his parents did as well. Gerry Elmore was about my age, and we played many times right in the middle of the Hollow because of the lack of people driving back then. Yeah, sitting in the hot sun of a Summer's day back in 1969, and dreaming about what the future would be like. Just kids being kids.

The Hollow will no longer be the same without the Elmore's living there. But hey, I guess that's life.

The trailer comes with an old "Dilapidated" house according to the real estate listing. Well, I spent much time in that old house along with my cousin Pete. I remember Mrs. Elmore making us lunch there while we were visiting all the kids like it was yesterday. Chicken salad on white bread and a bowl of split pea soup. Oh well, I guess memories get sharper as you get older.


The Elmore's of Huntley Hollow...

For as long as I have been alive this has always been the “Elmore’s” house up on Huntley Hollow Road in the Northern Catskills. And usually on the last mile or so of our 150-mile trip from Kensington, Brooklyn, my Grandfather Paco would always beep the horn of our “given” station wagon. That’s because either Charlie Elmore or Mrs. Elmore would usually be sitting outside their house alongside that old dirt road, and of course they would always wave right back. You see back in the 60’s there weren’t that many people living on Huntley Hollow, and waving to your neighbors was just what folks did back then, even if they lived three miles down the road, and even if you were from the City.

The Elmore's were very hard working people too, highway men, blue stone quarry men and loggers. I also know they were good hunters and fishermen as well. Just living in the mountains and living off the land, just like the settlers before them did in the house they lived in. An old wooden house that usually had a small lamp on late at night, a "beacon" for us sometimes when we made those late night trips up to Downsville. When we saw the Elmore's house we knew our trip was almost complete.

Yeah, there were the “Morvinsky’s, the Elmore’s, Junie Mills, “Crazy Bill Bart”, the Keators, the Laidlaws, the Newberts, and then us the Lopez family. And everyone knew each other and everyone waved when they drove by each other’s houses. A far cry from today when I’m sure there are more than thirty houses on the Hollow, and not as much waving as the 1960’s.

But hey, even today I still give a wave
to folks living on Huntley Hollow.
Even if they no longer live there anymore,
and even if they never wave back.


Ron Lopez
Mopar195@yahoo.com

Friday, March 25, 2011

Catskill Webcam @ 6:00 pm Today


Still snow in the Catskills, about 150 miles from Kensington

Friday, March 18, 2011

Louie from Avenue C


Louie was standing outside Izzy and Benny's luncheonette near the corner of Church and McDonald Avenue. The smoke from his cigar blew gently into the Kensington sky. Like white snakes dancing a gentle waltz they only lasted a few seconds and then just vanished into the night.

Louie looked down McDonald towards Avenue C, the lights of another F-train could be seen far in the distance. The yellow headlamps of the train slowly moved out from the Ditmas Avenue station and downwards towards the tunnel opening near the Gel spice company.

Down, down, down, until they disappeared under the street.

Louie continued smoking his cigar and was now trying to blow smoke rings from his mouth. Out of his lips they came, but not the kind of rings Louie wanted. No they all had a break near the top of the circle. Probably the result of Louie’s mustache that was getting in the way.

“Ahh, fuckin rings!, why doin’t dese God damn tings woik?”

By now the rumble of the Manhattan bound F-Train was right below Louie’s feet. Not liking the feel of the sidewalk vibrating beneath his soles, Louie squashed the cigar against the red brick wall outside the luncheonette, leaving another tell tale black mark along with thousands of other cigars he squashed. He then made his way back inside and sat on his favorite chrome stool, his cup of warm coffee was still there untouched by the counter.

Now Louie was what us Brooklyn guys
called a real Brooklyn “character”.

Louie was about fifty years old, stood no taller than five foot one, and combed his thinning black hair straight backwards. He also used some type of grease to slick his hair back, because it always looked shiny and never seemed to move. Louie always had a cigar sticking out of his mouth sideways too, sometimes the tip would be a glowing orange while at other times it was black and un-lit.

But what had to be the funniest thing about Louie was his thick Brooklyn accent. Louie had the thickest, deepest, Brooklyn accent you have ever heard. It was just so “Brooklyn” that it even amused us, a bunch of Brooklyn boys ourselves.

Louie also made Izzy and Benny's luncheonette his second home. He could usually be seen sitting on one of the chrome-plated stools by the counter with a cup of coffee and a small spiral notepad and pencil. Most of the time before he saw us walk in, he would usually be scribbling in his notepad unaware of anything around him.

Although we were probably too young or stupid to realize it at the time, by all accounts Louie was probably a good ol’ Brooklyn “bookie” and ran his “business” from the luncheonette on McDonald Avenue

“Hey, what chu guys doin here again?”
“I tout I toll you’s to stay on East Fort?”

At that point we’d all start giggling
because Louie was speaking “Brooklyn”

The language of our forefathers.

“Hey what you boys smiling at?”
“Did I just say sumptin funny?”

At that point Louie would get off the stool and charge towards us like a raging bull. Well, actually a raging bunny, because Louie was a real sweet guy and was was always laughing when he saw us.

He especially liked my friend Glenn Gruder, and would sometimes show up at his hockey games down by Avenue F to cheer him on.

“Hey Glenn, you gonna score a goal for me today?”
“Because if you don’t, I’m gonna kick your ass”.

Glenn would usually pat Louie on the shoulder and assure him he’ll score that goal.

“Don’t worry Lou, I got you covered, I got you covered”

After finishing our egg creams we’d all say good night to Louie at the candy store. Sometimes I’d look back and see him quickly immerse himself into his little notepad and start scribbling with his yellow pencil.

Just another night for Louie in Kensington Brooklyn.
Just another night.

It’s been over twenty-five years since I last saw Louie, and the luncheonette once known as Izzy and Benny's is long gone too. Now some kind of nameless cell phone store on McDonald Avenue.

But the funny thing is there’s still all these black marks on the red bricks that used to surround the entrance to the candy store. And I can’t help but think that they’re the old burn marks from when Louie used to squash the tip of
his cigar.

Just the “drawings” on a cave wall from a real Brooklyn guy.
A real Brooklyn “character” that we simply knew as Louie.

Ron Lopez
Mopar195@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The "Play Date from Hell"

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.

And we’ll never forget the “Play Date from Hell”

Ron Lopez

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crazy Mike and the Margaret Court


Mike leaned against the fence
in front of the Margaret Court
on East Fourth Street.
With bloodshot eyes and a
cigarette burning away between
his fingers, Mike just stared up
towards Beverly Road without
any expression.

Wearing white shorts, and an old polo shirt, Mike looked a litte out of place in 1975. Black socks and brown sandals also made Mike as different as can be in a time when most guys had long hair and wore platform shoes.

I guess Mike was about thirty-five then, he stood about five foot nine and had a hard looking potbelly. With a touch of gray in his red hair Mike also sported a rough looking mustache. And all “Crazy Mike” did everyday was just hang out in front of the Margaret Court on East Fourth. Oh, and Mike also lived with his Mom too, and she was about seventy years old.

Whenever Mike spoke to you, he kind of shouted as he put his face right up against yours. I mean it wasn’t that he was trying to be aggressive or anything like that. No, it was just the way Mike spoke to you, and nothing more. And because Mike had that unusual habit, it always gave one a clear view of his eyes. Which were usually red and bloodshot.

“Hey come here Ronnie, I want to ask you something”
“Does your Mother drive you fucking crazy too?”

Mike’s face was right in mine, all his nose hairs
were "countable" and his breath smelled like alcohol.

“Yeah, you know sometimes,
but what you gonna do” I said

If there was one thing I learned about Mike, it was always to agree with him no matter what he said. No, don’t ever disagree with Mike or get him angry, because you’ll never know what he’ll do.
Just always agree, all right?

And then there was the horrific screaming that used to come out of their apartment at the Margaret Court. And it was always Mike and his mother fighting about something, and yes they never whispered. they both just screamed at the top of their lungs.

“I’m going to kill you ma, I’m going to kill you”
“Don’t you dare touch me or I’ll call the police,
get away, get away!”
“I said I’m going to kill you”
“Put down the knife Mike, put down the knife”
“Ahhhhhhhh, Ahhhhhhh"

But don’t worry this was normal, and someone else
already called the police. And there was usually a
patrol car in front of the Margaret Court almost
every day.

Yeah, Mike and his mom surely had an open
relationship and never kept anything inside that
festered into hate.

I remember the night the City coroner’s truck and
a bunch of police cars were parked in front on the
Margaret Court. And for some reason that night
there was no screaming coming out of the second
floor window. No, tonight it was silent,
no screaming at all.

Mike’s mom was holding on to the arm of a cop as
they carried a long black body bag on a stretcher.

No, no more screaming at the Margaret Court,
because Mike was dead.

We never really knew how Mike died.
Some said it was drugs, others said he just had
a heart attack.

But the strange thing is ever since
the day Mike died we never saw his mom.

And maybe never really knew
"who" was holding the knife.

Ron Lopez

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Beverly on Church Avenue


The next time you’re walking from the subway on Church Avenue, make sure to make a left into the "T-Mobile Store".

Take out that two dollars you have in your pocket, and hand it to the lady in the ticket booth on the side where that guy sells all the hats
and gloves.

She will probably not smile and give you a small "Admit One" ticket. You will then walk up the long entranceway that leads inside the Beverly and immediately start to smell stale popcorn. But not to worry, because you see them popping it in the machine on the other side of the heavy wooden doors.

As you open the door to the go inside, a young man will be standing there to take your ticket. You hand it to him and he rips it in two, one half goes into a wooden box, the other you put in your pocket.

Hey, how about some fresh popcorn and a Coke? You walk up to the concession stand and immediately notice a roach under the glass, walking upside down. You pass on the popcorn and opt for "Snow Caps" instead. You hand the woman a dollar and wait for your change, you think for a second about telling her you saw a roach.

But hey, this is the Beverly and Church Avenue isn't exactly Madison. So you just walk away and up the ramp that leads to the main theater. And there it is again, no matter how many times you've been to the Beverly the chandelier that’s bigger than a house is just beautiful as ever, hanging from the ceiling. It must have over a thousand lights, and hundreds and hundreds of crystals. It simply gleams like a star in the darkness, even though it's covered with dust.

The 70's have not been good to the Beverly and you wonder what that place was like when your Mom was young. Did the screen still have that giant stain on it? Was the floor always sticky? were the seats always torn?. Suddenly the lights dim to black, the screen awakens and the movie starts.

You just sit there staring at that big magnificent chandelier, its crystals still sparkling in the darkness, and you can't help but imagine a Beverly that you never knew, a long, long time ago.

Ron Lopez

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ELO, Queen and the F Express


In a time when ELO and Queen ruled the jukeboxes of our local Windsor Terrace and Kensington bars, we had the F-Express to Manhattan. It was our own European “Bullet Train”, and it stopped right here, at Church Avenue. And I took it every day to The High School of Art and Design in NYC on Second Avenue and 57th street.

The F-Express stopped at Church Avenue, 7th Avenue, and then Bergen Street. It was really a time when hardly anyone got on at Fort Hamilton Parkway or 15 Street Prospect Park. Maybe all the Moms were home and the Dads worked in Brooklyn, who knows. But bottom line, those stations were not very crowded back in the early 70’s. And I know because I was there every day if I missed the F-Express.

Next Stop Seventh Avenue, Methodist Hospital

Then there was Seventh Avenue. The “Park Slope Pioneers” just walking on to the F-Train with their New York Times. Why the hell would they all want to live in that “rat-hole” of a neighborhood for? A place where all the streets are on a slant and no one has a driveway? How many times this week did you get mugged? You can keep that joint, I’d rather stay here in Kensington. Imagine we actually had better schools than Park Slope in the 70’s.

Next Stop Bergen Street.

I remember the train used to barrel out of the 4th Avenue tunnel at speeds well over 55 mph. The F would pass the platform in less than 5 seconds. The local would look like a blur as we rocketed by it. Before you knew it you were passing Smith 9th street and going down the big curve. This is when I would be lucky enough to see the progress on the World Trade Center. Just a skeleton of a building getting higher every week. It was really history seeing that building go up on the way to High School every day. So sad what happened.

Forget Carroll, next stop Bergen Street.

Now the characters that got on at this stop, I don’t know. Just a bunch of tough guys either going to their construction site or maybe to my school to kick some “sensitive” artist's ass. All I can say is they all wore black leather jackets and did not look like "yuppies." Yeah, how ya doin, are you some kind of artist or something?

Next Stop Jay Street Boro Hall.

Ok, so that was it. Even though I still had over a dozen stops still ahead of me. But let me tell you, I was at Lexington Avenue and 53rd street from Church Avenue in about 45 minutes, no kidding.

So remember the F-Express and a time when ELO and Queen ruled the juke boxes in Kensington. A time when PS 179 was the "school" and PS 321 was not.

But hey, I bet you that Denny’s still has ELO and Queen on their jukebox and maybe an old token somewhere in the floor boards.

Ron Lopez

Monday, February 21, 2011

Catskill Webcam @ 6:00 pm Today


Got the "Birdhouse" webcam working again!
Enjoy the pictures from the cold Catskill Mountains.

Ron

Thursday, February 17, 2011