Thursday, April 27, 2017

Our Home in Our Hearts

The sound of the metal being ripped apart was almost sickening. With its large toothed scooper the backhoe found yet another void between the boards and the fence to place its four sharp fangs and then pull hard forward tearing another section of white and blue plastic along with metal studs, collars and some occasional nuts and bolts. Within just a few seconds the eight-foot section of boards was gone. Just lying on the floor in a heap of plastic and tin. 

The backhoe then growled and again made it's way to another section of the boards ready to attack. And with no expression at all, the operator just continued his job while gently moving the black joysticks on his console.

"Hey Ronnie, you ok?" You really took that one square in the head". 

I remember the windup from John Arnold and that's just about it. Lights out and straight to the asphalt of my crease. Boom!

But then just like my mom waking me up in the morning to go to school there was Bill Webster's face along with his black longshoreman's wool cap staring at me with concern though the two eyeholes of my fiberglass goalie mask.

"Wow that one really left a mark on your mask but most important it didn't go in".

Now only a fellow goalie can relate to getting hit in the mask by a puck. It's a loud deafening "cling" that makes your ears ring for hours, along with the lump that you'll have on your forehead the next day in school.

"I'm ok Bill, but man did that one really hurt."

Bill Webster who was both a reference and linesman and volunteered so much of his time at the league helped me get back up to my feet. 

"You sure you're ok Ronnie, because if you're feeling a little dizzy I'll tell McCourt to put it Mitch Stern".

" No I'm ok Bill, let's get this going".

Bill blew his whistle and all the guys lined up for another face off just to my left on the circle. With white puffs of smoke blowing through their mouth guards it was just a split second before the scotch 88 slapped to the ground.

Arnold back to Randazzo at the point, Randazzo moves in and takes the shot.

The scotch 88 whizzed past my outstretched Cooper catch glove and hit the back of the netting in an instant.

"Yeah!!!!!!" Yeahhhhh!!!
With their sticks raised high in the air it was yet another celebration for the 67 Pct. Blues. 

The scoreboard hanging on the fence by the F-train froze with 2:49 left in the first period.

Home 0
Away 1

Kenny Whelan one of my defenseman scooped the puck out of the bottom of the goal and flicked it to center ice.

"Don't worry Ronnie, there was nothing you could have done about that one."

Yeah, try telling that to the guys on the bench I thought to myself. All sitting there with their heads hanging down like they were awaiting execution or something.

Oh man, this sucks I thought to myself.

But still the band played on and somehow we managed to win that game by a score of 2-1. I think I faced 53 shots that game. It was probably the best game I ever played in my life.

The 70th Pct. youth council roller hockey league back in the 1970s was our world. On any given weekend down at Avenue F there could have been over 400 players, coaches and fans in and out of the park. It was our Mecca of roller hockey; it was our Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum or Maple Leaf Garden. You choose the arena and that's what it was in an instant.

There were tons of fans watching us along with many of the parents of the kids who played there. It was where all the action was each and every Saturday and Sunday all throughout the 1970s. There was nothing like it, nothing.

You wore your team jersey with pride when you walked around in Kensington or Windsor Terrance. You were part of something great, part of something special. You were part of the 70th Pct Youth Council Roller Hockey League and you couldn't be more proud of who you were and who you played with.

And it was never going to end, never. This was going to last forever until the day we died.

"Hey man you can't do repairs here, this is city property". 

I looked up at the Park guy and smiled.

"Hey man, do you know this was my home when I was a kid?" "I'm only trying to fix some of these cracks so I don't kill myself when I play here tomorrow".

It was July 1990 when I decided to get back into playing goalie again. I remember going down to Avenue F and seeing these younger guys playing without a goalie and thought maybe they might appreciate having someone to shoot at. Just pick-up because the league left years ago.

"What is that stuff?

"Oh its automotive Bondo, you know the stuff you fix cars with. Hey do you know this stuff was invented in WW2 to plug holes in planes and not to throw off their balance because it's so lightweight".

"Oh Really?" I never knew that?"

With about four cans of Bondo surrounding me I gained the confidence of the Park guy and he just let me fix all the cracks around the goalie crease and face off circle.

I looked around at the court that day and could not believe what I saw. Like an abandoned western ghost town with tumbleweeds rolling through it looked like a shell of its former self.

No Fred Allen, no Bill Webster, no teams, no fans, no score clock, nothing it's all gone.

Well, except for the gold plywood boards, somehow through some kind of miracle they were still there and looked almost the same as they did in 1975.

Oh and the F train rumbling overhead, well that's still there. But forget Gold’s and the smell of horseradish, no they already moved to Long Island a few years ago.

So from 1990 through 1996 we played pickup games at the court almost every Sunday morning and all throughout the summer. Dragging two nets there on the top of my car while trying not to scratch my roof. Different guys, different time, but still so much fun nevertheless. It may have been like playing at an abandoned playground in Chernobyl with rusty swings and melted asphalt but at least there wasn't any radiation that we knew of.

"What the Hell is the South Brooklyn Roller Hockey League?"

I remember calling my cousin Pete Liria who played for the Terrace Rangers back in the 70’s and telling him that the entire court was renovated and they seem to have real looking NHL boards. 

"I have no idea who's playing there now but the place looks great".

This may have been 1997 or so from what I recall. Another span of years that I took off from playing hockey because of my new marriage and new family.

"Wow, I wish Avenue F was this nice when we played there back in the 70s" 

Yet, although the court was spanking New and there was a grandstand behind the benches there was still something missing.

The crowds, the excitement, the hundreds and hundreds of guys and our heroes Fred Allen and Bill Webster.

The Fred Allen Memorial game (2007)

I remember my wife Virginia telling me that some guy named Louie Di Bi-something wanted to talk to me. She said he was mumbling something about a memorial game in honor of Fred Allen who ran the league and who had just passed away recently.

The game of course would be held at Avenue F where we all played 32 years ago.

He was looking for names and numbers of guys and of course asked me if I could play goal.

Wow, I thought. A reunion game and the chance to see guys that I haven't seen in over thirty years. You bet I'm going, not going to miss this for anything in the world.

So with all my goalie gear that I bought in the 90's I made my way down to F for a reunion of reunions. 

There was Bill Webster, Jimbo Drudy, Billy Walsh, Alfred Guerriero, Johnny Blesh and so many many guys that I haven't seen in decades. 

Oh, and there were some of the dreaded 67 Pct. Blues as well. But just as I started to feel sick seeing their blue and yellow jerseys, John Arnold one of their best players came over with a warm smile to say hello.

"Ready to stop me cold again Ronnie?"

I had to laugh to myself because Arnold probably got more goals on me than pebbles of sand at Coney Island.

So with the memories of the 70's and the glory still in our hearts Bill Webster dropped the scotch 88 at center ice and our reunion game began.

I really don't remember how many goals anyone got on me that day and actually couldn't care less, because seeing all those faces after 30 years was the most important thing. And of course honoring and paying tribute to Fred Allen the man behind the entire league. 

"You know they want to tear out the hockey court and put something else here".

I forgot who told me this, but it was probably around 2014 or so. It may have been Charlie Gili or maybe one of the kids who played pickup games at the court on weekends.

"Ronnie maybe you can go down with us to one of the community board meetings, we got to fight this."

I believe a guy named Andrew Lupo asked me to go down with a bunch of the weekend players to a meeting in Midwood where the community board and Parks Department were presenting their idea about the new Avenue F park. 

I remember they had an architectural drawing on a piece of foam core board on an easel at the front of the room. The entire rendering looked green from a distance and did not have the familiar face off circles of a hockey arena anywhere.

The guys did their best to argue for the court but the Councilman basically said, "thank you all for coming down but the hockey court will not be a part of the renovation". 

I remember how he seemed to brag about the fact that he raised nearly three million dollars for the renovation and how he's basically going to do what's best for his constituents no matter what we said.

"Douche bag" is all I thought to myself; Fred Allen would have knocked this asshole out with one punch.

Well the guys all left the community board meeting feeling down and depressed. But still the renovation would probably be hung up in red tape giving the boys a few more years to play there.

So  for us older guys it was an occasional reunion game including the "Inky Memorial Game" to honor one of our own who died as a result of working at the WTC site after 9-11. 

Slower slap shots, pulled muscles and an occasional broken thumb or wrist. But still it was fun followed by a get together over at Kevin Ryan's bar On McDonald. 

No, there's nothing a few Advil’s can't fix when you're pushing sixty.

"Hey Ron, I hear the park is closing on Monday April 24th".

I was lucky enough to make friends with Artie the Park guy who looked after Avenue F.  Thinking about it now Artie may have also been the same guy who told me I couldn't repair city property back in 1990 while I was filling the cracks of my goalie crease with Bondo.

"Yeah Ron, I'm sorry it looks like they'll be tearing it apart on Monday the 24th,"

Well another reunion game it is, April 22, 2017. It's our last chance.

So Facebook posts were made, emails were sent, and plane tickets were purchased. This is it folks, our last time at Avenue F ever.

And came they did, quads, roller blades and sneakers. White hair, grey hair and no hair. No bellies, beer bellies and artificial hips and knees. The Boys are back in town!!

So with the threat of rain we skated through our last reunion game. Cloudy skies above and rain held off until everyone was safe and cozy at Kevin's bar. It was a miracle of sorts I tell you, a miracle.

On Monday April 24th I decided to skate down to the court from my house on East 4th about a mile away. Gliding all the way down East 4th and making the right into Ave F like I did hundreds of times before in my full goalie gear and my Northstars jersey. 

As I approached McDonald Avenue I looked to the left towards the back of the court facing North by the Park house. There were benches full of players, there were time clocks, and there was Fred Allen, Bill Webster, Jerry Catalano, and Mister Rossiter. There were crowds standing on the benches chanting my name. There were players getting ready for the next game. These was Snowball Pierce, Richie Kenna, Bob Brennan. The Blues, the Northstars, the Terrace Rangers, the Penguins, the Flyers, Bob Lesser, and countless others who made Avenue F what it was. 

A Hope, a dream, a sanctuary for us as kids and young adults. 

But as I got closer to the court the images all disappeared. Replaced by a yellow backhoe and white Parks Department dump truck.

Ripped boards, ripped metal and ripped hearts.

This was our life guys, and it's all lying in a heap of steel and plastic now after 45 years. This just really sucks, it really does.

As I was about to skate away a young woman pulled up in a Parks Department car. As she got out of the car she held blueprints in her hand. I went over and introduced myself and told her what the court meant to me and my friends. She was actually very apologetic and said she felt very bad about the hockey court being removed and she realized that it was very important to so many people.

But still, too little, too late I thought.

So as I skated away and made the right on Avenue F my mind was filled with a million thoughts and a million memories. Feeling depressed, feeling sad, feeling awful.

Of a place that we called home.
And our home was Avenue F.

Ron Lopez


Mark O'Callaghan said...

Great memories of a key time in all our lives Ron.
Thanks for taking the time to put it into words.
This closure really brings those we lost along the way to top of mind.
Mark O
Mark O'Callaghan

Jim Duffy said...

Dear Ron
I came across your blog and was amazed to see the name of someone I had never forgotten growing up in Kensington...Fred Allen!!!My childhood home was 601 East 3rd Street near the corner of Cortelyou Rd. Me and my buddies frequented Ave F Park often to play softball, stickball and basketball.Thgere was the old Golds horseradish warehouse right next door and you could smell it a mile away! We joined the 70th Pct Youth Council baseball league...and there was FRED ALLEN umpiring our games!He came to our home once or twice to visit. Revs barbershop on Cortelyou Rd near the corner of East 3rd St was a sponser and used to post the standings in his front window! I have such great memories of those days. My mom was born on McDonald Ave right near Ave F Park. My dad was a Sgt. in the NYPD...61st Pct and later Brooklyn South Task Force. He was born on McDonald Ave as well. Our families lived in the area for close to 80 years going back to my grandfather whose was with the NYFD way back in the Depression era.
I went to PS 179 and Ditmas JHS and St. Rose of Lima parish as a kid. Great memories of the area especially the holidays...Easter, 4th of July , Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanks for your blog!
Jim Duffy

CatonGuy said...

Great stories. Glad to see you posting them again. I took my wife back to where I grew up on Ocean Pkwy and Caton the other week and remembered your site.

CatonGuy said...

Great stories. Thanks for posting new ones. Takes me back to good times.