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.
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.