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.
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.
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.
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.
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.