Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Save Avenue F

Ok guys I’m going to do my best from my old puck hit memory to explain the birth and history of hockey at Avenue F from 1972 to the early 80’s when I played there.

The 70th precinct PAL had two roller hockey teams that originally played at the playground up by East 5th and Fort Hamilton Parkway. They played without boards and the games were usually on Saturdays and Sundays in the late 60’s through very early 70’s. They were the Ryan’s Northstars and the Terrace Rangers. Local bars sponsored both teams.  Which in hindsight is actually funny because we were just kids. The guys who ran the league back then were; Fred Allen, Bill Webster, Jerry Cartalano, Mr. Pierce, Joe Romano, Louie DeBiasi, Richie Kenna and many that others I forgot.

These men were all pretty much tough “blue collar” guys that didn’t take shit from anyone including us teenagers.  They also did more for us than anyone else because of the time and devotion they put into the league.

On any given Saturday or Sunday back then there were probably around a hundred people either watching or participating in the games up by the playground on Fort Hamilton and East 5th. Especially when IHM let out after mass, that’s when the place would fill up and it was standing room only!

Now a couple of the older guys who ran the league either worked for the Parks Department or had some kind of affiliation with the city. So when we heard there was going to be an actual rink being built down by McDonald Avenue near Avenue F we were all quite excited.  We also knew that it would happen much faster than normal because they worked for NYC Parks and oversaw the McDonald Avenue Park before the rink was actually there.

No back then you just got things done period.

My cousin Pete has a vague memory of some Italian construction company doing the paving work down by F during the summer of 1972.  The fence piping and the plywood were all put up by the guys who ran the league back then and also with the help of some of the older teenage players who were skilled and strong enough.

Ok, I’m going to say that the original Avenue F was built in the Fall of 1972.

The cool thing about Avenue F from what I recall is we were the first roller hockey rink in Brooklyn to have curved corners vs. the angled corners that both 53rd and Kings Bay had.  And the guys that ran the league were quite proud of that too!

I think they held some kind of painting party and many of the boys that played in the league helped paint the boards, the blue lines, face-off circles, goalie creases, etc.

The original nets that were lightweight aluminum were given up for much heaver steel nets that could not be blown down by the wind. I clearly remember our original nets being held by sand bags up on East 5th when we played there. And for the record I still have one of the original nets and my cousin Pete has the other. Patty DeSimone traded us the two nets for a motor scooter back in 1971 or so.
Patty no longer has the motor scooter but we have the nets!!! I still use the net today to shoot into on my block here on East 4th.

The rink was originally named the Billy Powell Memorial Hockey Rink after a young player was killed by a car on the way to one of the games early one Sunday morning. Billy was killed by the circle by Prospect Park down by the Coney Island Avenue/PPSW/Ocean Parkway merge. We were all in shock that morning to learn that he was killed on his way to the game. We had a ceremony one day before a game and there was even a sign erected on the fence outside the rink.

It was never known as the DiGilio Playground when we played there.

Well, we had refs, score boards, dozens of fans and the action was always quite intense. There were fights galore, playoff games, crowds cheering on the park benches, rivalries, hockey dinners, trophies, crying after a tough loss and celebrations after you won the coveted “Kenna Cup”. The Kenna Cup was our equivalent of the Stanley Cup and you better believe that when my team won it we skated around the rink and held it up to the sky just like any other NHL Pro team would.

We had our annual hockey dinners at the Farragut Terrace and one time we even had Bill Chadwick appear in person to speak.

We even once had a nighttime Roller Disco party down at the rink around 1975 or so. There was music, food and hundreds of people enjoying a night out by the rink. The Parks department even brought in floodlights to make it well lit at night. There was even talk of installing floodlights for nighttime games like at 53rd street.

Those were the Glory Days at Avenue F and we thought it would never end.

The 70th Pct Pal continued to run the league down by F into the early 80’s from what I recall. I “retired” at 17 but then came out of retirement at 19 to play again for another team at F. They were Richie Kenna’s Flyers and once again there were fights, friendships, intense playoff games and the same feel that we all felt 10 years before.

But then things changed for many of us, we were too old to play, some guys got married, some found girlfriends and hockey started to take a back seat to other things.

I think the wave of us “Baby Boomer” guys took over Avenue F and then left just like we arrived.

I remember coming out of “retirement” one more time when I was 33 years old. I remember going down to F in 1990 and looking at a wasteland of what were the best years of my life. My goalie crease had a giant crack in it and my roller blades were constantly getting stuck in it. Making saves were difficult because of the bumpy goalie crease and the large fault line-like crack. I came down one day after we played and fixed the crack with some automotive bond so I could glide over it smoothly. We started to play on Sunday mornings at 8 am and we brought down our nets. There were regulars that played there and we had a great time just playing “choose-up”.

But then again things changed and hockey again took another back seat to children and marriage.

But then one day in the late 90’s I remember seeing that the court was totally redone. The surface looked awesome and the boards were actually real ice hockey boards as opposed to the plywood that I always remember. There was a banner that said “South Brooklyn Roller Hockey” and I was so happy to see the court being used again.  I knew some of the guys running the league and even thought about getting involved again. But sadly I never did.

I’m not sure what happened to that league but what I always did notice was that the court was constantly being used on the weekends. There were young guys always down there and it was nice to see the court in action. From what I understand the court was even being cared for by these kids and they went out of their way to make sure they were maintaining it while NYC Parks was not.

Councilman David Greenfield should know that the rink is being used as much as it was when I was a kid. Although there is not a league there the rink is being skated on by humans and the fun and laughter is still what I remember when I was 17. The guys by playing there keep a lot of riff-raff out of the park and without them it would probably look like a wasteland.

There is plenty space in that park to accommodate both hockey and a nice renovation. Tear out the grandstand behind the rink and do as you please. The guys don’t use the grandstand anyway.

But more important is maybe, just maybe young kids will start using the rink again if the rest of the park is more palatable.  Because right now the rest of that park looks pretty scary and yes it can use a sprucing up.

It is also important to remember the history behind the Avenue F Roller Rink. The blood, sweat and tears that were shed there. The hundreds if not thousands of people that played there and still do today including me.

Please Councilman Greenfield, try to make a compromise of some sort and be a hero to all, don’t let the memory of so many men who put so much time into that rink go to waste. Because the Avenue F rink is more than just an open space looking to be replaced by adult exercise equipment and a few trees.

Avenue F rink has been a local institution since 1972 and is still an active rink in 2015. Being used today by many people to enjoy the same way we did as young adults in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Building friendships and memories that will last forever while playing a sport you love so very much.

That’s something an adult exercise area will never ever do while a hockey rink can. Please consider that thought before destroying the rink.

Thank you,
Ron Lopez
399 East 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11218

Thursday, September 18, 2014

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

Website Counter

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Freddie's Stoop.

On any given August night back in 1975 you could find me down the block on Freddie Schefferman's stoop. But not just me you know, the rest of the boys also made Freddie's stoop their perpetual brick and mortar home. Glen Gruder, Robert Brennan, Neil O’Callahan, Jimmy Spinner and my cousin Pete Liria.

Now most of us were anywhere from fifteen to twenty at the time, and Freddie was much older. Freddie could have easily passed for Jesus or Tommy Chong from “Cheech and Chong”. With long wavey black hair, a beard and little round glasses. It was hard to imagine what Freddie really looked like too.

Freddie may have been 35 years old at the time. His mother and father owned the house he lived in. And from the stories Freddie told us all the time, we were pretty sure that he grew up on the block too. I know Freddie graduated from Pratt in Brooklyn and did work “freelance” from time to time. Hey, he even owned a 68 Triumph Spitfire convertible, so he had to have some kind of dough. But most of the time Freddie just loved to “hang out” on the block. Just looking like “Jesus” in his bell-bottoms, sandals, and yellow and white striped shirt. Leaning against the white picket fence of his house talking to anyone who wanted to “hang out” with him.

Freddie did spend some time in Vietnam too; I think he told us he used to make maps there. But we never pushed it because who knew if he would “Freak out” about it. And Freddie knew just about everything you know, politics, art, religion, history, philosophy, and most important, Brooklyn.

“You kids should have been around here when the Trolleys ran on Church Avenue. You couldn’t imagine the shit we used to do with the Trolleys”

Freddie did share many of his Church Avenue Trolley stories with us. From squashing pennies on the rails to making late night explosions on the high wires by throwing a metal pipe up at the lines, hoping to arc them both at once, and causing something to blow. I guess it did work sometimes, because Freddie told us many stories about being chased by the cops up our block too.

“What the hell are you guys doing here with me?”
“you should be out getting laid somewhere,
you guys are really schmucks!”

Now we never asked Freddie the same question, because it was
still a Saturday night, and the clock just struck midnight for him
too. But we just took his insults in stride, and just listened to
more of his stories.

“Did you guys check out that new program “Saturday Night Live”, now that’s some funny shit. Hopefully NBC won’t cancel it next year like they always do. Bunch of schmucks!”

Freddie was a Jewish 60’s flower child with an edge.

“You guys are little assholes, didn’t you see
that girl walk by and smile at you?”

“Why don’t you talk to her and get her number?”
“When I was your age I had a girl on each arm every night”

No one ever dared to ask Freddie what happened,
because we never saw him with anyone on the block.

No, instead of a beautiful girl on each side of his shoulders,
Freddie had us instead. And let me tell you, we were far
from being beautiful.

Freddie hated the establishment too,
every President sucked,
every Governor sucked,
every Mayor sucked.
But then again we never asked Freddie if he ever voted.

On very rare occasions Freddie would let us down into his basement to see all his photography equipment. Freddie knew all about mold making and casting too. In fact he made me my first fiberglass goalie mask that I still have today. We may have even seen “pot roaches” in empty cat food cans down there too. If Freddie did smoke pot, we never knew it, because he kept his personal life in the basement. 

Sometimes some of my friend’s dads would playfully rib Freddie about the fact that he seemed to be blissfully un-employed. Especially my friend Robert’s dad Bob Brennan.

Now Bob worked on the World Trade Center and told us countless stories about being up on the tower crane some 110 stories up. About how it swayed back and forth and almost got him sick on windy days.

“Hey get a job you bum”

Freddie would just laugh with all of us sitting around him.
Like overgrown Santa’s elf’s around our spiritual leader.

“Hey, I am working” “I’m teaching these kids about life,
including your son” “I’ll send you the bill next week!”

Sometimes another great Brooklyn philosopher and storyteller, Freddie’s downstairs tenant “Bobby Wilson” would join in on the conversation. Bobby Wilson was stocky and stood about six feet tall, with a big square jaw, dark blue eyes and midnight black hair. Bobby always looked like he was on the verge of murdering someone. He drove a tow truck for “Al & Leo’s” collision on 36th street near Fort Hamilton. In fact the place is now called “36th Street Collision” and Al is still the owner. Bobby always wore a dark blue jump suit with red script letters “Bobby” on his left chest, With the police scanner blaring and the volume up high, you always knew when Bobby was on the block. And don't forget, he had his name painted on the truck also, so you just couldn't miss him.

I think if Bobby didn’t know Freddie, he may have just beaten him up because of his long hair. Bobby hated hippies, freaks, the un-employed, the protesters, and the left-wingers. I think you get the picture. Yet together they were our own "Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby" right on East 4th street. Just arguing about everything and taking opposite sides on any subject. And of course Bobby’s solution for everything if conversation and debate didn’t work was to just “kick their asses” Most of Bobby’s stories were about his adventures driving his tow truck for Al and Leo. And usually when he was the first person to get to some horrible accident somewhere before the cops.

“Now who has a weak stomach here?”
“Because if you do, I don’t think you want to hear this one”

“OK, I heard this call on the scanner about a roll-over on McDonald and avenue C. It was late at night and I’m just a couple of blocks away. I get there and the car's totally in flames. It looked like a 69 Charger but I wasn’t sure. And the guys still in it because I see his head. So I try to pull the guy out of the car and the only thing I can grab is his head. So I’m on the ground squatting like this, just pulling and pulling. And them “Boom”, I fall backwards and the guy’s head comes off right in my hands. I’m on my back just looking at his head in my hands. I think he was even trying to talk to me too cause his lips were moving”.

At this point Freddie would be looking up at the
sky above East 4th, just rolling his eyes.

“Hey Freddie you think I’m bullshittin?”
“Cause if you do I’ll go upstairs and show you the guys ear,
I cut it off as a souvenir”

Freddie would just shake his head.

And the stories just went on and on, and the hot summer nights just rolled on by. I guess our parents were torn, on one hand they wanted us to be going out more, but then on the other all my mom had to do was poke her head out the window and see us all on Freddie’s stoop.

But just like everything when you were young,
you thought it would never end.
Until one day our nightmare came true.

Freddie told us he found a job and was going back to work.

Well, back to work, that’s ok. Because I worked too, and went to college also. So maybe Freddie couldn’t hang out till 2 AM anymore.

And then it hit us like a brick, my heart sunk, my world ended. Freddie told us his job was in Alaska, and he was leaving within a week, and would not be back for years.

We left the stoop that night feeling very depressed, but still held out some hope that Freddy was full of shit.

But then the day came that would be etched in my mind forever. Just a few days after Freddie told us the news I was sitting on my porch with some of the guys. Across the street was some guy walking with a clean white shirt and kacky pants. He crossed the street and started walking towards us. He had short black hair, clean smooth skin and a big bright smile. He also wore little round glasses.

“Do you guys know who I am?”
We just looked at him perplexed and said “no”
“You’re kidding, you don’t know who I am?”
“Sorry” we said, “we have no idea”
“You schmucks” the voice sounded familiar, yet the face wasn’t.
“I’m Freddie, you assholes”

Oh, my god, it was Freddie, he cut his beard, hair, and was wearing a white button down shirt and dress pants.

We all just stared at him in shock.

“I told you guys I got a job,
what did you think, I was full of shit?”

I guess maybe for once Freddie wasn't
full of shit, no he was really leaving the
block, and wouldn't be back for years.

I don’t remember the day Freddie left,
I may have been working or in college at the time.

We tried to pick up the pieces with Bobby Wilson and his tow truck stories, but it wasn’t the same without Freddie. Then tragically Bobby’s son Bobby jr. got real sick and died of a brain tumor. And Bobby just wasn’t the same anymore.

From what I heard he just stayed inside
his apartment and did a lot of crying.

The stoop in front of Freddie’s house was empty, yet there
was still hope that at least Bobby would be back someday.

But then one day when I got home from work I remember seeing a NYC morgue truck in front of Freddie’s house. I figured it was Freddie’s mom that died because she was quite old. As the black body bag was being carried out of the house, Bobby’s wife Eileen was holding on to it and crying. It was Bobby Wilson.

The doctors said it was an aneurism,
but we knew it was just a broken heart.
Because Bobby just could not live without his son.

I remember the funeral at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue.
The whole block must have come that night.

And there was Bobby in the casket.
With a cigar in his pocket, and still looking like he could
kick someone’s ass, even in death.

Yeah, it was over.
Everyone was gone.

So the stoop remained empty forever at 418 East 4th.
And after Freddie’s parents died he sold the house.

We moved on with our lives. Found girlfriends or got married.
Some of us even moved away far from the block.

I heard Freddie finished his work in Alaska
and finally did get married.

In fact, rumor is he still lives in Brooklyn.

But truth is, I haven’t seen him in almost 30 years,
and neither has anyone else.

And I hope that some of those late night stories
about Brooklyn and life rubbed off on me too.
Because I grew up with some of the greatest storytellers
in Brooklyn, although at the time I don’t think they had
a clue that they were just that, “story tellers”.

And Freddie, wherever you are.
Thanks for all those great nights on your stoop.
Just hanging out and passing time,
and giving me a "gift" I will never forget.

Ron Lopez