The old woman moved very slowly down the cold concrete sidewalk of East 4th street. Her body was bent forward as she used the tiny blue shopping cart to help steady her walk. With her knuckles swollen and her hands looking somewhat distorted, she gripped the cart's thin metal bar for dear life. Wearing her old favorite tan overcoat and dark sunglasses she had hair as white as a new fallen snow. The wind was bitter cold as it blew against her skin, she seemed to be counting her steps as she walked. The wheels of the cart squeaked quite loudly and made a sound that was almost seemed musical, the spokes just glistening in the morning sunlight. I watched her until she vanished around the corner onto Beverly Road.
She was tall and beautiful with long brown wavy hair and dark blue eyes. There she stood under the big clock at the Hotel Astor in Manhattan. “Hey gorgeous, how about a movie tonight?” The young woman smiled as she glanced back up at the clock. It was five minutes to six and her date would be there any minute. His name was Ray Ravelli, and he was a professional boxer. Tonight there would be a lot of stopping on the way to dinner, because everyone knew Ray when he walked through Times Square. As the clock struck six and the bells gently tolled, she saw Ray walking towards her. She smiled as he took her hand.
“Hey Ray, when you going to fight Graziano again.” With quickness in her steps she pulled him along through the busy sidewalks of Times Square. Ray, unable to answer the question from the stranger just turned to her and said, “Hey Stella, how about we just get married and move to California?”. She just looked at him and shook her head "No".
She looked into the mirror and closely studied her face. The mirror just looked back at her, staring straight into her eyes. “Who you looking at you old woman!” The lady in the mirror just smiled back. With much caution in her steps she slowly walked out of the bathroom and headed towards her favorite chair by the window, her old bent finger flipped up the switch of her radio. She loved “Prairie Home Companion” on a Saturday night. Then she reached into her bathrobe pocket and pulled out her mother’s old magnifying glass. She placed it against the face of her watch and slowly drew it towards her blue eyes. It was six o’clock and time for another beautiful sunset over Brooklyn.
My Mom never married Ray the boxer. He wanted to elope and move to California, my mom just wasn’t that adventurous and instead decided to stay in New York and make Brooklyn her home. She loved the excitement of Brooklyn and especially the young people. “Do you think I want to live with a bunch of old people and hear all their stories about aches and pains? no, I’d rather live with the young, at least they help you forget that you’re old”.
My mom died on October 13, 2001 at the age of 83. She never left Brooklyn, and I never remembered to oil the squeaky wheels of her carriage.
The token booth was old and black and it was not very big at all. It's hard to say what it was made of; it may have even been wood. The booth stood in the middle of the station, quite far from Church Avenue and an equal distance to Albemarle Road.
The North/South corridor is now closed because they built an elevator there, but if it ever opens again you could still see the bolt threads that were cut flush to the concrete. I know because I saw them just a few years ago. I remember that my head barely reached the old wooden coin exchange when I would hand the clerk fifteen cents. And of course my Mom was standing right behind me when he gave me the token, which was about the size of a dime at the time. I just handed it to my Mom and then ducked under the large wooden turnstile, making sure not to hit my head. Forget the beeps, lights, and stainless steel that you passed through this morning on the way to work.
It was old painted metal and worn out wood. And you had to be sure not to touch the turnstile; you may even get a splinter. Because the token booth was right in the middle of the station the distance to the nearest staircase was not that close either. So if you ever saw the lights of the F up at Ditmas Avenue from the corner of Church and McDonald chances are you would NEVER make that train. So the Church Avenue commuters of yesteryear certainly got a workout each and every day trying to catch the train.
The Manhattan bound platform was never really pretty either; even as a five year old back in 63, it smelled like things I just didn't understand yet. "The lights, the lights", I would yell to my Mom, pointing up the black tunnel towards Avenue C. And that’s when it happened every time; she would take her very strong Polish arm and just lock it around my chest from behind. Giving me a close look at the gold and diamond ring she wore.
I just said nothing as the very dark and dirty train roared into the station. With yellow lights shining from the inside it almost looked like a hotel rather than a train. My Mom would always grab my hand real tight too when walked inside the car. The seats were bamboo, the walls were a ugly green and there were gigantic oscillating fans spinning on the ceiling. So maybe on second thought it looked more like a bar on Miami Beach rather than a hotel. There was no constant hum of an air condioning system, LCD lights or whatever electronics that make today’s subway cars sound like your computer's hard drive. No, it was this low pitched chugging of compressor motors building up brake pressure, babies crying, people talking, laughing or coughing. And of course the squeaky sounds of the fans turning overhead. The doors just closed too, no bongs or PA system either to tell you to "watch out".
There was also the odor of burning electric, grease and oil. I could only compare it to the "Eldorado" at Coney Island, an electric bumper car ride. We would usually find a seat and I'd watch the dark green doors slowly close. The train would slowly lurch forward, and we'd be on our way. With a low pitched "groan" that slowly built into a higher pitched "whine" you heard every single sound that the electric motors below your feet made. With the yellow tunnel lights passing the outside of each window like a stream of stars, the old train would creak and rattle and dance away on the rails below. The sweet sounds of the subway was all you heard, leaning against my Mom I would close my eyes and fall asleep.
I sometimes take my son to the Pavilion up by 15th Street; instead of driving we just take the train. “Hey Dad, why do you put your arm around my chest when the train comes?” "Oh, did I do that?". “I don’t know Son, I guess it’s just a habit”.
The blue flame suddenly roars to life, it rumbles deep in the belly of the dark basement below. Cold rusty pipes begin to warm as fire boils dirty brown water inside heavy iron coils. The radiator hisses and drools as hot steam begins its long journey through the highway of conduits that lead to silver valves above. They come alive and breathe a heavy breath, and like warriors they stand guard in the corners of your house. Then it starts again, the tapping of the pipes by the demons in the basement. With iron mallets they smash at the hot iron pipes, daring you to meet them in the dark caverns below. The cold air of your room begins to fade, replaced by a warm vapor of steam. The softness of your pillow, the comfort of your home, you close your eyes and fall asleep. Sweet dreams to you, oh Kensington homeowner, and try not to have nightmares about your next National Grid bill.
The greatest storyteller Brooklyn has ever known is my friend Bob Brennan. At 78, Bob is a Brooklyn original you know. From sneaking into Brooklyn Dodger games at Ebbetts field to climbing the wall outside Kings County Hospital to see a live autopsy. Bob just always had what seemed like a novels worth of stories to tell at any given moment.
“Oh, do I have a good one for you Ronnie” said Bob. “You know my brother Joey wasn’t one for doctors, and one day he hurts his arm real bad playing baseball down on Brooklyn Avenue. So after about a week he goes to the doctor. Well, he comes home with a cast on his arm, and there’s my brother going crazy every night with this cast. Its itchy as all hell, he’s sticking wire hangers, ice cream sticks, almost anything he can find to shove up the cast and scratch himself. Well, finally after six weeks he goes to the doctor to get it off. So when the doctor takes a small hammer and cracks it open, “Bang!”. He breaks open the cast and hundreds of roaches come running out. The doctor gets up and runs the hell out of the room. And there’s my brother just sitting there screaming with all these roaches all over him”.
Besides being a wonderful storyteller, in many ways I felt like Bob was the Dad I never had also. When my dad died when I was seven many of the fathers on the block pitched in to either show me how to hold a hockey stick or catch a hardball. And of course Bob had the best arm on the block, he was even called for a tryout for the New York Giants Baseball team before he was drafted and went to Korea. So there I am just standing in front of my driveway at 399 East 4th with my new Rawlings mitt. “OK Bob, I’m ready”. With the gracefulness of a pro-ball player, Bob throws the hardball towards me. Like a streak of white it flies through the air crossing East 4th and hits the newly oiled palm of my glove, “snap”. I just stood there with my fingers and hand feeling like they got run over by the B35 bus on Church Avenue. “You OK, Ronnie?” Too embarrassed to say no, or even cry in pain. I dug the ball out of my oil soaked glove and threw it back to Bob. With the gracefulness of the “Tin Man” before he got oiled, the ball flies through the air, totally missing Bob’s glove. It ricochets off the hood of a 70 Plymouth Duster and lands in “Frank form Italy’s” tomato garden. Instead of laughing or being upset, Bob just retrieves the ball from the tomato garden. He walks over to me, “OK, now I’m going to show you how to throw the ball”. Yeah, that was Bob.
You have to understand that Bob’s stories and his personality were almost medicinal too. In some of the darkest days of my life I could always count on Bob to help me forget my pain. All without him ever knowing that he was doing just that.
After my little sister died at 33, I had to go to Kings County Hospital and identify her body. Without a moments hesitation I asked Bob if he could come with me. And without any hesitation on his part he just said “yes”. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you about the time me and my brothers climbed the wall outside the morgue wing to watch them do an autopsy?.” Although I heard it before, I would rarely say yes, and especially not today. “No Bob I haven’t. When I had to pick out a casket for my sister the next day at Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue. There was Bob with me in the “showroom” down in their basement. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you the time I was at a funeral over at Cypress Hills Cemetery?” The ground is totally covered with ice, and here’s these two guys pulling the casket up a steep hill. Well one of the guy’s falls and the casket comes sliding down the hill like a toboggan at Prospect Park. It hits a tree and the stiff comes flying out of the casket". "What a mess I tell you”.
The Casket cost me fourteen hundred dollars, but the therapy was free.
And the stories went on and on, from a baby eaten to death by rats in Brownsville when Bob was a kid. To the midget that fixed his oil tank in his basement, because he was small enough to fit inside it to do the repair work. Yeah, Brooklyn through and through, that’s Bob.
You better believe that Bob was one of the first people I saw after 9/11 too. Bob was a tower crane operator and worked on the World Trade Center back in the early 70’s. He used to tell me stories about sitting up in the cab some 110 stories up in the sky. “With the wind blowing it felt like you were on a ship, just rocking back and forth.” Bob pulled a lot of steel from the street to help build those buildings. And on 9/12 there I was, just sitting at his kitchen table. Looking at old photos of him standing on the roof of Tower 2 while the building was still a skeletal frame.
In many ways I feel bad that everyone doesn’t have a “Bob Brennan” in their life. Or maybe the entire Brennan family for that fact. There certainly would be a lot more laughing and less prescriptions being filled out at “Walgreen’s”. Yeah, that was my anti-depressant, a quick trip to 422 East 4th.
The other day my company was splashed across the business section in the “Wall Street Journal” another 2500 layoffs in 2008. So what’s a grown man to do? worry you say? No, just call Bob Brennan for that quick pick me up. “Hey Ronnie, did I ever tell you about the wedding I went to, here’s this guy standing over the bar like this. He has his eyes closed and just looks real stiff. When his wife tries to grab his arm, he’s cold as ice. This guys dead, standing up right over the bar, looking at his martini”.
Yeah, the greatest storyteller I have ever known lives on my block, and his name is Bob Brennan, and I’m proud to call him my friend.
Ron Lopez (Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.)
Now I'm not telling you anything you don't all ready know already. But every time I drive around Brooklyn I'm amazed at all these abandoned and derelict "New Construction" projects. Yes, they are some developer’s dream that went down the tubes. The poor guy is probably sitting in some dingy motel room in Rahway New Jersey and writing out that suicide note right now.
Oh well, I guess "speed" kills, or was that "greed" kills.
Long before Park Slope was pretty and “Little Things” was cute, we had Kensington, Church Avenue and Kenny's toy store.
Kenny's toy store sat on the corner of East 3rd street and Church Avenue. And just about where you would open the door today to enter RiteAid, back in 1963 you would be walking into Kenny's. And you would usually have a dollar in your pocket too.
As you walked in the first thing you would notice is how dark it was. Mr. Kenny who looked something like Albert Einstein sat behind a small counter on the left as soon as you walked in. He had wavy grey hair and a thick mustache. He was short and stubby with a large stomach.
“Good morning to you young man”.
The wood floors would start squeaking uncontrollably as soon as you started walking around in Kennys. And the floors were dark and dull and looked like they were there forever. Mr. Kenny usually worked with Mrs. Kenny, she too was short like Mr. Kenny and had long grey wavy hair. The squeaking floor was probably a way the Kennys kept tabs on their customers, because no matter where you were in the store Mrs. Kenny always seemed to be watching you.
The aisles of Kennys were very narrow and the toys always seemed to be covered with dust. And as far as the selection, it seemed that the Kenny's sold toys that were popular in the 50’s rather than the 60’s. But still when you were granted the opportunity to go to Kenny's with a dollar in your pocket you never said no.
“Oh, do I have something for you” said Mrs. Kenny. “This is something that just arrived”
Mrs. Kenny held up a cardboard package with something that looked like a red egg in it. It said “Silly Putty”. Now when you find a toy in Kennys without a layer of dust on it you knew it had to be something special.
“Would you like this?” said Mrs. Kenny holding the strange looking package with the red egg. I nodded my head in agreement as I walked to the counter. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my dollar bill, I handed it to Mr. Kenny.
Mr. Kenny had this thing for Scotch taping ripped dollar bills, even if they had the slightest tear in them Mr. Kenny would tape them in what seemed like slow motion. Today would be no exception.
“Oh, we have a tear, so we must fix”
Mr. Kenny usually looked at me as he said this, I guess he thought I ripped them for a hobby. His fixing of dollar bills was a surgical procedure, and his process was slow, deliberate and exact, every time. First, came the close examination of the dollar and the tear. Mr. Kenny would always pull down his eyeglasses at this point. Second, he would lay the dollar bill on the counter and hold it with one hand. Now ever so slowly he would reach towards the scotch tape dispenser pulling off the length he needed and gently tape the bill. And when he was finished with one side this whole routine would start all over again for the other side of the dollar. When it was over he would put the dollar in the register and hand you your change. But the torture was still not over. The toy was then put into a small brown paper bag, the bag was layed on the counter, the top was folded over twice, the receipt (usually hand written) was attached to the bag and then stapled. All this within what seemed like hours to the mind of a little boy. “Thank you young man” said Mr. Kenny.
As you opened the heavy wooden door the cowbell on the door would cling and the sunlight usually blinded you from being in the darkness of Kenny's so long as the bill was being taped. But as you walked home along Church Avenue you knew it would not be long before you would be at home playing with a new toy from Kenny's and also taping all your mother's dollar bills before you go there again.
Today on the KWT site I was reading about some robberies committed at the Fort Hamilton station on the F-line. Oh yes, the good old Fort Hamilton stop. From the "token sucking" done by the softball field to the attempted rape of my old girlfriend back in the late 80's, the Fort Hamilton station always seemed to attract some real characters.
And I knew some of these characters, well at least the guys that used to jam the token slot with the broken end of a popsicle stick and then wait for some poor "sucker" to put their token in. The token would just sit in the slot near the top without fully going down. The patron would then curse and walk away while some kid in a black leather jacket would return into the station to actually "suck" the token out of the slot and make himself fifty cents.
Yeah, good old token sucking at Fort Hamilton, it probably bought more than one slice of pizza at Korner for Steve.
Oh, but then there was the "problem" with my old girlfriend. Happened during broad daylight down on the platform. And if it wasn't for her screaming and the person that came to help, who the hell knows what would have happened. But the good news is they caught the guy and he was convicted of attempted rape after a long trail one summer in downtown Brooklyn.
Now back in the 70's and 80's hardly any people used that station. I remember while I was going to Art and Design in Manhattan I would always stand at the front window of the F train. Just counting the tile columns and nothing else, never a soul in that station and sometimes I wondered why we ever stopped there.
I remember talking to my friend who was a transit cop; he said that station was always ripe for the picking for a few reasons. For one the station was curved, so it was harder to see what was going on from one side of the platform to the other. The second reason was where it was, basically in a residential area where there was much less foot traffic. Just a paradise for the "criminal element".
But today it is much different, I guess moms are going to work and dads travel into the city rather than by the docks in Brooklyn. You see that was my theory about Fort Hamilton, moms at home while dads drove to their "longshoreman" jobs by Red Hook. Who knows if I was right, but the station was always deserted so who knows?
But you know what my best memory of that station was? Well, one Sunday morning we were playing hockey in the PS 130 schoolyard. All of a sudden my cousin Pete says, "hit the deck" followed by "pop" "pop" "pop". Right there running out of the station were two cops shooting at these two teenage boys running down towards East 5th street.
Man, what the hell? I thought this area was safe?
Oh well, I know crime happens all over the city, but there is just something about the Fort Hamilton Subway Station that brings back some "wonderful" memories for me growing up in Kensington.
Last night I learned from my cousin Dolores Perri (From the Buzzarama) that my cousin Manny passed away. Manny was 73 years old and really never recovered from a terrible car accident he was in six or seven years ago out in Bell Harbor Queens.
Now my cousin Manny was an excellent artist and did most of the “Clifford the Red Dog” books for something like forty years. So chances are that when you were reading that book to your kid, my cousin Manny did the artwork for it. Yes, Manny was one of the few people around that actually made a living being an artist, yes that was his full time job, and he was very good at it.
And life is strange let me tell you, because if it wasn’t for my cousin Manny I may never have gotten into the art field at all. And it all boils down to a New Years Eve party at my grandparent’s apartment back in 1974. My cousin Manny dropped by and happened to mention to me that the guys he worked with needed help at their art studio in Manhattan. They were Peter and Nick LoBianco and their studio was on 51st street right off Second Avenue. So here I was this sixteen-year-old kid who only knew how to draw well and nothing else. But because I attended the high school of Art and Design some six blocks away they let me come in right after school to help out.
And they all went to the same high school years before me, so I guess they had a soft spot in their hearts for this sixteen-year-old kid with long brown hair and platform shoes back in 1975.
And the rest folks, well, the rest is just history.
But the bottom line is if it wasn’t for my cousin Manny I may have ended up driving the F-train, because I had my mind set on working for the MTA. I even had the book to study for when they gave the test. No, I wasn’t the best artist in school and I guess I questioned my skills and how I would make it in the real world.
But Manny, Peter and Nick pushed me and taught me well, and like I mentioned folks the rest is just history now and I have to thank my cousin Manny for it all.
Life is indeed strange isn’t it? Rest in Peace cousin Manny, and thank you for all you did.
Here is a link to some of the books Manny illustrated. http://www.jacketflap.com/persondetail.asp?person=100839
I thought nothing could ever out do "Balloon Boy". But today on the KWT site it's been non-stop, all day, "Nanny Watch Posting Opinion" A real "Hot Topic" for sure, and I'm glad they used Initial Caps in the header.
You know my dad, grandfather and uncle Manuel from East 2nd, were real big deer hunters when I was a kid. And for those who are familiar with the “Buzz-a-rama”, my uncle Manuel was Dolores Perri’s dad. He was a big man who stood about six feet five, and had a loud booming laugh and shoulders broader than the side of a barn.
He was certainly one of those uncles that you always wanted to come over and visit. Just laughing and telling stories and making you feel special, even if you were just eight years old.
And hunting was a real big deal for them. Every November when I was a kid, we would go upstate to our house for hunting season. As the men wandered off into the woods carrying their rifles. We were given specific instructions not to go outside, and also not to make too much noise, even inside the house.
Just a bunch of “hunter-gatherers” as the women and children stayed back in the den.
Now for whatever reason my brother Joseph, cousin Pete and I just never got into the whole “hunting thing”. I mean we certainly were exposed to it every year, and even traveled back to Kensington with a deer tied the roof of the Rambler more than once or twice. And if you want to talk about some strange looks from the Blanks next door, just hang the deer in your garage after you pull it off the roof of your car I tell you.
Yes, the men in my family certainly showed the “natives” of Kensington a thing or two about hunting. "New York Times editors" and "Ferry boat captains" had never seen the likes of the Lopez family, on a quiet street just known as East 4th.
Yeah, a large buck hanging inside the garage in the back of our driveway, and sawed off deer legs for all the kids to play with. These were the only Novembers that I knew as a child growing up here in Kensington Brooklyn.
In 1965, my grandfathers best hunting companion, my dad, died at 39. Leaving the tradition solely on the shoulders of my uncle Manuel and grandfather. And as the years rolled on Pete and I just never showed much interest in the sport my grandfather loved so much. No, for us it was hockey pucks and roller skates, and weekends down at a hockey court simply known as “Avenue F”.
And my uncle Manuel, well, he hunted less and less too, I think he just missed his best friend, that being my dad. And the times up in the Catskills just weren't the same as they were before, especially for my grandfather.
“So young man, would you like to go hunting with your grandfather this year?” I remember the day my grandfather asked me that question, I think I was about 15 at the time. And feeling that maybe that would be something “special” for him, especially after the death of his son ten years before. I reluctantly said yes.
It was always a dream for my grandfather to hunt with his grandchildren you see. And the fact that my dad was gone along with my brother put added pressure on my cousin Pete and I to just do the “right thing” for our grandfather Paco.
Now, we were never afraid of guns, and even used to shoot old cans of tomatoes for target practice once and a while. But the whole idea of shooting a 200-pound deer just wasn’t something I was really interested in. Dragging it through the woods and cleaning it with a knife and my bare hands like my dad? No, that just wasn’t for me, nor my hockey playing cousin Pete.
I remember my grandfather carefully explaining to us where to shoot the deer that day upstate. “It has to be somewhere above their front legs, this way it cannot run away from you”
We politely listened to my grandfather, and then went on our way into the snow-covered woods of the Catskill mountains. I know my grandfather must have been very proud that day. Seeing his two grandsons now hunting with him, just as his own son did so many times before.
I walked over the ridge and sat on a large rock that overlooks a valley. It is a beautiful view and is near where I built my own house back in 2003. I just stared at the snow-covered mountains in the distance, and dreamed about being back in Brooklyn playing hockey.
As my dad’s gun was resting across my lap, I slowly turned it sideways and emptied the bullets from the chamber. I put each one in my pocket and then gently laid my fathers gun on the ground beside me. I just stared at the mountains in the distance, and never saw a thing. After a few hours I returned to the house and met up with my cousin Pete. Never mentioning it to him, we all sat together and had our dinner.
I never told my grandfather what I did that day. Because I didn't want him to know how I really felt. No, hunting was something my father loved. And I just couldn't feel the same, no matter how I tried.
That was November of 1975, and the last time I ever went hunting.
I remember the phone call my mom got that morning. It was October 16, 1976. I was getting dressed in our apartment on the top floor of 399, getting ready for another day of college in the city.
“Oh my God, No, Oh my God, No”
My grandfather Paco died that morning. In our house upstate, a massive heart attack and 20 miles from the nearest hospital.
It was about a month before hunting season.
And as for my cousin Pete and I. Well, we never did go hunting again, no that all ended with my grandfather and the day I emptied the chamber of the rifle.
But at least my grandfather’s dream came true, even if it was for only one day.
It was years later when I heard my grandmother telling my mom the story. About how my grandfather never found the bullets in my dads gun that night when he was cleaning it. And about how he found them in the pockets of my hunting pants instead.
It made him laugh that night because he always knew I could never shoot a deer.
But most important, he was so proud to go hunting with his grandsons that day. About it being the last thing he’d like to see before he died. Even if it was for only one day.
I once knew a man, a simple man who worked in a factory down by the East River at the end of Atlantic Avenue. A factory that made boxes, just simple boxes for the aspirin you took when your head hurt.
And this man always had the burning desire to buy a house, a big house where his entire family could live.
So with the savings he had from working at that simple factory where they made simple boxes, he was able to buy a house in Kensington Brooklyn.
Yes a simple job bought a great big house, and what a wonderful world it was.
Now that person was my grandfather Paco, and the house he bought was the house I now own which is 399 East Fourth. The year was 1948, and the times were very fair.
Today my wife and I know a very nice simple couple. The husband makes a very nice salary even in the year 2009, something like 110,000 dollars. He works in an office and is very proud of all that he has accomplished. They are both in their early 30’s and have two wonderful little children. And no they are not us.
And they save money these two; yes they do, because they know that you won’t be able to do much in life if you don’t save money. They also have a dream just like my grandfather Paco, they want to buy a big house just like he did to raise a family. And considering the cost of everything they would love to buy a three family house and have tenants to help offset the cost of the great big mortgage.
But this is where “Real Estate” becomes “Un-Real” estate, even with a couple that are in extremely good financial condition and have “perfect” credit according to my wife.
So let’s examine some numbers here, why don’t we.
In 1948 my grandfather bought 399 for 12,000 dollars. He probably made something like 3500 dollars a year So the house basically cost 3.42 times his yearly gross salary.
In 2009 a large three family in Kensington may go for 950,000 dollars. A very good salary at 110,000 is nothing to sneeze at. So here the house cost almost 8.63 times his yearly gross salary.
Oh sure you can buy a house two hours away up in Sullivan county and commute your life away. Maybe something for 300 thousand to bring it all in perspective. But my grandfather who worked in a factory didn't have to do that. So why should someone who makes over a hundred grand in 2009 be forced to do that?
And these people are starting to get depressed about it, because it doesn’t look like they will ever be able to buy the kind of house they would like to in Brooklyn. And let me tell you as prices go Kensington is cheap. Fort Greene and Park Slope have prices well over two million dollars.
And why is it like this and not like it was in 1948?
Well, I for one believe that the current state of “Un-Real” Estate is being controlled by a select few buyers and sellers who have owned property for years. So whatever shots are being called are being called by this group of people who just play a much bigger game of “Un-Real” Estate than the rest of the world. Yeah, right there in the "Skybox" while the rest of the word lives down in the "green" seats.
So what happens?
People like my wife’s friends get shut out of buying a house in Kensington Brooklyn and start to consider moving to Florida. While people like my grandfather Paco probably end up living in a homeless shelter instead of dreaming about buying a house for their family.
I remember the exact day I realized that it was going to be very difficult to ever ‘get one over’ on my Mom. Well, not the exact day, but I know it was in the fall of 1975 and I was 12 years old. 12 going on 19- or so I thought. My ten-year old brother Richie and I were home on a sunny Saturday morning doing what we were best at- being royal pains in the ass.
We were bouncing all over the house, making a mess in every room sounding like a herd of wild boars. This behavior although fairly common for us, was reaching new heights on this particular morning. This was due in part, thanks to a new T.V. show that we had seen earlier in the week. Being kids, September was, of course, our least favorite month of the year. Summer was over and we now had to go back to our local prison (school). But the ninth month did have one redeeming quality. The new fall T.V schedule was upon us. And now as of the past Tuesday, we had a new all-time favorite show.
S.W.A.T. - a brand new police show about the San Francisco Special Weapons And Tactics squad made its much anticipated debut. It had everything a kid loves: cops and robbers, guns, explosions and not a whole lot of dialogue to get in the way. From the opening credits we were both hooked. The typical loud police show music followed by each member of the squad doing barrel rolls and three point combat stances –as their names and ranks flashed across our huge 15-inch television set.
“Street!! Luca!! T.J!! Deke!!”-screamed their captain, Hondo. We were psyched because having a grandfather and three uncles on the NYPD, there was something special about the cops and robbers shows for us. So on this particular Saturday we were reenacting that first exciting episode- much to the dismay of my Mom. After about two solid hours of systematically wrecking each room of the house, and after ignoring the numerous warnings to “Quiet down” “Get off the furniture” “Cut it out” (and my personal favorite)-“I Am warning you two…”-we had finally gotten on my Mom’s last nerve.
“THAT IS IT!!!!!” My Mom bellowed. Both my brother and I started scurrying towards the door because even as little kids we knew by that tone that the game was now over. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE-NOW!! GO OUT AND PLAY! DINNER AT 5pm. GET OUT”. Now we also knew that we were going get a little something more than the yelling. As my Mom stood by the dining room door waiting for us to go out, we both knew what was next- a parting gift in the form of a slap to the back of the head. There was no getting around it at this point. My brother, Richie goes out first and takes his medicine. But as I move towards my fate, the craziest notion comes into my silly little head. For some inexplicable reason I decide that I was not going to take my comeuppance today. So in a fit of genius, right before I get to my Mom and the door, I decide to mimic my new hero TJ from S.W.A.T. and I execute a perfect barrel roll under my Mom’s backhand. She misses me completely- nothing but air. I then scrambled up and bolted out the front door, into the afternoon sun. Of course, I half expected my Mom to come after me but I think she was too shocked by my brazen attempt to escape her justice. Anyway I was probably out of the front gate before she even knew what happened.
As I caught up to Richie who was already a half block away, trying to climb up onto the roof of our local library, I proudly told him what I had just done. And in his much older than his 10 years manner he just said. “Sweet move- wish I had done it” Let the games begin as we both head into the afternoon having no plans and really no idea what the day ahead holds for us. That was one of the greatest things about being a kid back then- time sort of stood still, when we were out together every day. Well not really- fast forward about 4 or 5 hours later. Richie and I have been out and about the neighborhood involved in various games of skill (Basketball, Baseball, Football) and chance (Apple ‘borrowing’ from various neighbor’s trees; annoying the local library guard-Vinny Cannucci) when we are suddenly told in no uncertain terms by the church bells, that it is 5PM, and time to get home for dinner.
So we bound back towards the house-very hungry and very, very dirty. All the way home we try to guess what we are going to have for dinner. I am hoping for Roast Beef and mashed potatoes and Richie says he’s in the mood for Baked Ziti. We slam through out front gate towards the door. There was always a great feeling going back home for dinner after a good, long day at play. Only today along with dinner, I would have a revelation. So I splashed through the dining room door and asked loudly; “Hey Mom, we’re home- what’s for dinner?”
I was greeted. No words- just a solid backhanded to the noggin. As I spun around to protest indignantly “HEY WHAT WAS THAT FOR…?”, I stopped. I turned to see my Mom standing there with her arms folded and a slight grin on her face. And all she said to me were these three words: “Thought I’d Forget?” I had forgotten- the blissfully ignorant and short term memory of a 12 year-old. And as I stood there looking at my Mom with a new found admiration, I realized that it was going to a very long time before I would ever be able to get one by her. There would be no more barrel rolls for me and I would forever remember those words of wisdom from another one of my favorite cop shows-‘Baretta’: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”. It wasn’t all bad that night. We did have Roast Beef and mashed potatoes for dinner.
I have seen a few posts so far about insulation, window replacement and so on. And I’m sure it’s all in an effort to save fuel this winter. Now I’m not an expert on this stuff but I can tell you what I did to lower the cost of my National Grid and old Keyspan bills.
My house has over sixty-five windows and kills me every winter when it comes to amount of money I have to spend to heat its old body. It’s a large wood frame and lacks the proper insulation between the walls that much newer houses have.
Well the first thing I did over a period of time was replace all the old windows with modern double insulated windows. And made sure to have the windows “capped” properly and caulked. This was an instant success when it came to saving money, probably a few thousand dollars the first winter.
And let me give you some real numbers on this so you can understand the importance of windows. My house is over 4000 square feet and my gas bill is about four thousand dollars a year with new windows. My good friend down the block owns a house that's about 2800 square feet. He pays about six thousand dollars a year for his gas because he still has the old windows from 1963. I keep telling him to change his windows, but still he hasn't.
Then we looked into having insulation blown into the attic crawl space above the third floor ceiling. This was also an instant money saver and helped keep the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The cost also was much less than having insulation blown between the walls of the entire house. Maybe 1500 dollars about five years ago.
My wife also read about these really thick insulated drapes that cover the windows, they are very and heavy and really keep the cold out during those 10 degree days. And in the summer they really help in keeping the hot sun out of the apartment. Once again a smart move and I have seen my gas bills go down once again.
Also make sure that there is nothing blocking the area where your boiler pipe goes into the chimney. Every fall I make sure to “ShopVac” this area clean, because your boiler needs to breathe properly or otherwise it will choke itself.
I still have other things in mind but once again it all costs money. For instance I can either have insulation blown between the walls, which is about ten thousand dollars. Or remove all my vinyl siding, attach those 2-inch thick insulation boards and then put my siding back on. That would be the ultimate, but once again a big expense.
These are just some ideas and I hope they can save you some money this winter.
Now even I don't remember the trolly. But according to my family my dad once lost his brakes going down the McDonald Avenue hill and broad-sided a trolly right below on Fort Hamilton Parkway. And according to all accounts no one was hurt. Now hows that for a story? But the Beverly, oh yes do I remember the Beverly and the Planet of the Apes marathon without any air conditioning. Too bad they let it go, huh?
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.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night in my bunk bed. My heart was racing, my hands were sweaty. I ran from the tiny bedroom that I shared with my brother and down the hall to my mother and father’s room. I was crying.
“Get them away from the house, get them away”.
“Get who away” said my mom.
“The Bulldozers, the Bulldozers”
I must have been no more than five years old when I saw them on East 4th and Beverly road. I remember standing about where the underground garage entrance is for 303 Beverly. At the time a row of wood frame houses stretched all the way from Church avenue to Beverly Road, Along with even bigger houses on the North side of Beverly Road. They pretty much mirrored the ones that are still there now on the South side of Beverly between E4th and E5th.
But sometimes in the mind of a 5 year old, things just don't make sense. These beautiful Victorians would soon fall to the ground. Just an X on a developers building plan, and a new nightmare for a child.
The massive yellow monsters were billowing black smoke from their pipes. They had large high silver steel blades that pushed everything in their path away. I remember holding my moms hand watching as it started crushing the side of the house. The wall of the house started to buckle as a stained glass window slowly began folding outward, suddenly shattering into tiny pieces. Like confetti the colors fell to the ground. The sound of cracking wood and glass breaking filled the air. The house groaned an awful sound, its heavy wood beams struggling not to crack against the power of the bulldozer, and then without warning, the front porch collapsed. The pillars that held the porch up slid sideways and hit the ground,dancing for a moment until they were still.
The house was just like the one I lived in . A massive three story wood frame with two large porches. I wondered if there were people living in it. Little children holding onto their moms, crying as the wood floors below their feet cracked and snapped. Windows that they must have looked out of suddenly shattering, walls falling. Holding on for dear life as the house twisted and contorted itself. Trying to stand as the monsters growl began to get louder and louder, both white and black smoke shooting through its nostrils. I cheered for the house to defeat the monster, hold on, please just hold on. But then my mom tugged on my arm and we started walking away, down east 4th street towards our house. I looked back towards Beverly Road, there was suddenly a loud crash followed by a cloud of dust that engulfed the entire corner, then only silence.
The next day on the way to the A&P (where Rite Aid is) we walked by the construction site. The house was gone, just a pile of broken wood, pipes, glass and dirt. The yellow bulldozer was working away, crushing the remains of the once beautiful house with it’s massive steel treads. There were other houses next to it which were still standing, soon to fall victim to the roaring machines.
The day of conception was coming soon for the building now known as 415 Beverly.
Sometimes as parent you try to shield you children from things that you believe may give them nightmares, I don’t blame my mom for letting me watch the bulldozers tear down those houses. I don’t think she really knew that I would ever have such nightmares about it. Not knowing if they were going to start tearing down our house next, moving down East 4th like house eating monsters, flattening everything in their path. No, I can’t blame her.
But one day a few weeks ago we were driving through Brooklyn, they were tearing down an old house on a block I cannot remember.
My son asked: “Dad, can we stop and watch?” I thought about it for a moment and then said, "No, how about we just go to Greenwood Park instead".
What a beautiful tribute. I didn't know Drew back then, but it sounds like some things just never change -- the dynamic kid described was the brother-in-law I met and got to know and care about. The love Drew had for life -- and all the people in it -- was so genuine, so pure, and just being around him made you feel like you were having the best day ever. My husband, Peter, loved Drew like an older brother... and Drew is with him every day. We both miss his light, his presence, his groan-inspiring jokes, his warmth... Drew Thomas was a true rock star, and then some. Dennie
You know Dennie since I started this Blog along with the Avenue F hockey blog many of the guys that used to play in the league back then have re-connected with one another. And hearing about Drew's passing has been quite a shock for many the boys that played roller hockey with Drew. He was one of those people you never forget, and we are all blessed to have known him. Drew was also one of those guys that everyone wished they had for a best friend.
In my recent venture of trying to find some of the guys I played roller hockey with years ago, I found my old little black book with many of my friends phone numbers in it. And right there on one of the pages was "Drew Thomas's number along with the blade of a hockey stick I had drawn next to it.
I had a real hard time turning that page, and I just wanted you to know that.
Check out the little flakes in front of the WebCam folks. Yes, it is finally snowing again in the Catskills, oh, but didn't it just finish snowing just a few months ago in May?
I will try to update the picture every hour or so.
Ron Lopez Mopar195@yahoo.com
Long before roof mounted DVD players, side curtain airbags and air conditioning, there were just four wheels, shiny chrome bumpers and a big steel body. No, forget about seat belts when you were inside. Because all I ever did was lay across the back seat or just sleep on my mother’s lap when we drove to the Catskills on a Friday night.
“Is everybody inside, because we’re leaving”
With that said my Grandfather and Dad would put my dog “Poochie” in the back. They always left a small spot right near the rear lift gate for him to sleep. It must have been no more than a one by one foot square, which always gave him a nice view of Route 17 as we drove through the dark mountains towards Downsville, New York. Poochie was just surrounded by boxes of food and suitcases full of clothing, but never once tried to open anything to sink his yellow teeth into. Yeah, he was sure a good dog, even if he liked to chew on rocks and keep them in his mouth all day.
Oh well, I guess everyone must have some kind of weird fetish, including a dog.
With the Lopez family safely inside, the 58 Plymouth would gently back out of our driveway in Kensington. The tail pipe scraping the sidewalk was always the last sound we heard before pulling away and driving down East Fourth Street. Usually when that happened my grandmother Isabel would make the sign of the cross while my grandfather Paco would just shake his head.
The car must have been as long as an “air-craft carrier”, and the inside as big as the Beverly theater. Or at least that’s how massive it felt. But truth is the car was “gigantic” and much longer than the Nissan Quest that we drive today. Maybe 20 feet long or something like that. And the O’Callaghan’s who lived across the street from us had a similar model, except theirs was the “Airport” version and had an extra row of seats. But what the heck, there were about a dozen of them anyway, so they needed the room.
“Who wants to get ice cream at my restaurant?”
With that said, my Dad would veer towards the right after we got out of the Battery tunnel and park on Trinity Place in front of “McPherson’s”, the place where he worked in Manhattan. With a silver key he would open the door and walk through the darkened restaurant towards the freezer that held the ice cream. Sometimes he let us inside, but most of the time we just watched through the glass window from the sidewalk.
He’d soon return with a handful of vanilla and chocolate ice cream cones. We’d all take which ones we wanted and then run back inside the Plymouth and take our seats.
With the taste of ice cream we were eating, and the smell of a fresh cup of coffee my dad and grandfather Paco were both drinking, the Plymouth would continue it’s journey up the West Side highway towards the George Washington bridge.
With my eyes felling heavy, I’d usually fall asleep somewhere right before the Bridge. The sound of the road beneath the floor boards and the panting of our dog “Poochie” would somehow enter my ears no matter how deep I slept. Always playing a part in whatever dream I could have inside the hallow steel walls of a 58 Plymouth station wagon. But somehow I would always wake up once we got to our house in the Catskills. Maybe it was the cold mountain air or maybe the millions of stars above in the sky.
And with East Fourt street and Kensington a thousand miles away, my grandfather Paco would put the Plymouth in park and shut off the huge hot V8 engine. And just like every time before, my grandmother Isabel would make the sign of the cross and say the same words as always.
“Thank God we made it, thank God we made it”.
Above is a picture of our 58 Plymouth parked in front of 399 East Fourth back in the late 1950’s. I was lucky enough to find the original bill of sale too. My dad bought it from a Plymouth dealer across from Ebbets field back in December 1957, the month I was born. The car cost a little over five thousand dollars new and probably got less than ten miles per gallon in Brooklyn.
It's always hard to forget your first boat. Mine was about 18 feet long and a dark forest green. It had light tan captains chairs and a 350 Buick V8. And you had to be real careful when you backed it out of the dock too, not to sideswipe the house or scratch the freshly compounded paint on the bushes.
Then when you’re rolling down the river you gotta make sure to have your “Boston” 8-Track on full volume, and at least one hand on the wheel. Just washing the kids and the elderly into their front stoops from your powerful wake. Oh, and you better not have any small stones in-between your hubcaps and the whitewall tires, because that noise just ain’t cool. Ting, Ting, Ting.
And you never have to worry about getting lost at sea or Prospect Park either, because all you’d have to do is shoot up a flair and have the Coast Guard land right on your hood. Yeah, that hood was so damn big!
I think it was late October back in 1976 when I got the bug to buy my first car. I was 19 at the time and always imagined it to be something real cool too. Oh, lets see........70 Cuda, 68 AMX, 69 Dodge Charger. All the car models I built as a kid with my cousin Pete upstate in the Catskills, on those very rainy days. And now, I could own one all for myself!. Heck, my friend from work Peter LoBianco even had a Pontiac Astra lined up for me, nice two door with a small V8, but the deal fell through.
“You know Ronnie, my sister and Frank are thinking about selling their car” said my Mom. “Oh, I don’t know Mom, that’s not the kind of car I really had in mind”.
Now, let me tell you about my Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Frank’s Buick. It was only three years old but looked like it went through the mill. Although my Uncle Frank worked for "Wonder Bread" in Queens, by the look of the car you’d think he used it as a cab. It was constantly dirty and the interior was yellowed and smelled like cigarette smoke. There were scratches all over it and it had a big dent in the rear passengers side quarter panel from when my Uncle Frank sideswiped a Amish Buggy in Lancaster, PA. Oh, and buy the way don’t believe that crap that those people don’t go in cars, they chased my uncle and shook him down for 300 bucks. In a red pick-up truck no less. So you see the idea of buying that car and possibly being a marked man for the rest of my life in Amish Country wasn’t exactly something this Brooklyn boy had in mind.
“I think they want 2000 dollars for it” said my mom. The price wasn’t exactly a bargain, but then again the car did have low mileage and with some Clorox, compound and wax, you never know what you could come up with. “My sister said that if you don’t want it they would buy it back”.
Oh right, my aunt would send bogus letters to GE, saying all her light bulbs were defective just to get a box of free ones. So, I knew the car was “never” going to be returned. “So, what do you think Ronnie?” “Should I tell her OK?”. At that point I looked towards the heavens asking my Brother and Father what I should do. Hoping to hear some voice whisper in my ear. But, there was no voice, and all I could think about was the time we got stuck on route 17 near Monticello, in my Dad’s 63 Rambler on our way to Downsville. Thinking we were going to never be found and freeze to death just a few hundred feet from a Jewish bungalow colony. And then those two letters just came out of my mouth, there was no turning back now. “OK”.
So the next morning we went to see my next door neighbor Mr. Blank over at Nationwide on Church avenue for the insurance cards, and then Greater on McDonald Avenue to cut us a money order for 2000 dollars. It was down the subway stairs to the F-train, and a long ride to 179 street Jamaica, last stop.
Now at 19, I was an F-train veteran you know. From changing prices on hockey sticks at Mays on Jay street, when I was 12. To my daily ride to the High School of Art & Design on Lexington ave. until I was 17. I had it down. But today the ride was especially long, and forget about Queens. Anything after Lexington avenue should just as well be Kansas, because I never really go to Queens. Except of course to see Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Frank. But “Queens Village” is so close to Long Island, I never really considered it was part of the city anyway. As we walked up the stairway I could see my uncle Frank in his new 77 Olds Cutlass waiting by the curb. “So, you must be excited Ronnie” said my Uncle. I got inside the car, smiled and nodded to my uncle. As we got closer to their house I started to become more excited, and with a money order for 2000 dollars in my pocket, I knew I would be driving back to Brooklyn in my first car.
My uncle parked his car in front of his house and it was up the driveway we went to take a look at the Buick. “I didn’t get a chance to clean it or anything” said my Uncle. Knowing my Uncle never cleaned it anyway, I just said “that’s OK”. And everything was just like I remembered it, cigarette butts in the ashtray, the yellowed interior, the smell of stale smoke, and the dent from the Amish Buggy. Not to mention the scratches and the overall look as though it was waxed with sand and Brillo.
Well, we handed my aunt and uncle the money order and celebrated with coffee and cake on their kitchen table. It was congratulations, kisses and hugs and then it was on our way to Kensington, Brooklyn.
The ride on the Belt Parkway was smooth sailing, My poor Mom indured about an hours worth of WPLJ. “Meat Loaf” “that’s a real funny name” said my Mom. “In my day singers used their real names, like Tony Bennett and Bing Crosby”. “What a bunch of idiots today”.
And then finally I saw it, like a beacon in the night. Exit 7N, Ocean Parkway! We made the right off the Belt and on to the service road, another right onto Ocean Parkway and it wouldn’t be long now. As the alphabet got closer to C, I started to feel the excitement and reality of finally owning my own car. We made a big left hand turn onto Beverly Road and then another onto East 4th.
To this day I clearly remember the reflections of the trees above moving along the dark green hood as I got closer to my house. I just felt so damm proud finally driving my own car. Another big left and up the driveway we went. The guys were there too sitting on my front stoop, just watching. I guess word travels fast on my block. As I put it in park and started opening the drivers door to get out, Glen, Neil, and Pete opened up both back doors and got in. “Hey Lopez, what do you think you’re doing?” “Lets go for a ride” “I think Coney Island sounds good” “Don’t they have a Nathans there?”.
Well, from that day on the “Buick” became the car for the guys on the block. I cleaned her and polished all the scratches from her hood and fenders. I scrubbed the white walls and hung a cherry air freshener from the radio knob along with a disco ball from the rear view mirror. The “Buick” was nothing less than a Saturday night cruiser. We also had the latest in technology too, an 8-track and a CB, along with bowling balls in the trunk for a stable ride. But don’t read me wrong here, the “Buick” was also tough as a Hummer too. On one ill faded camping trip to Downsville NY, I drove her up our logging road on a Friday night. Too tired to carry all our backpacks and equipment, we just set up camp as an electrical fire from the starter motor almost sent her to “hubcap heaven”. But regardless the beat just went on and on for the Buick. Although sometimes it almost stopped for us as well.
One Sunday morning back in 1980 on the way to McCarren Park in the wasteland known as Williamsburg, we lost some valuable hockey equipment that was piled inside our hockey net strapped to the roof. I stupidly stopped the Buick on the other side of a curve, just East of the Brooklyn Bridge on the BQE. We almost became a newspaper headline that day, but thanks to an alert oil truck driver all we got was cursed at. And there were weddings, funerals and everything in-between for the Buick. All the time nourishing itself on an endless supply of Diehard batteries, alternators and tail pipes. Yes the late 70’s and 80’s were surely this dinosaurs heyday, but the "Ice Age" was coming soon. And the asteroid just hit the earth, and its name was “Monte Carlo”.
I don’t exactly remember how it happened but one day I woke up and the Buick just didn’t look the same anymore. She was looking old and worn out, her lacquer skin was cracking and peeling and the seats were all ripped. The 8-track was out dated and the cats sleeping in the back seats during cold weather wasn’t exactly impressive on a first date either. I tried my best to spruce her up with a new paint job and rubber mats. I even sealed up the hole in the floor so the cats couldn't get in anymore. But still, the feeling just wasn’t the same anymore. We were just growing apart.
So out came the automotive personals simply known as the “Buy Lines”. With other candidates being circled in red along with late night phone calls to “for sale by owners”. My quest for something young and new was making me restless. And all along she slept right outside my window, just leaking her tears of "Dextron transmission fluid" on the cold concrete floor. Unaware of my wandering feelings. Then one day I just saw her, the “Monte Carlo” of my dreams. With smooth lacquer paint, two perfect doors and a magnificent tail panel. I just couldn’t wait any more and had to do it. Well, it was another trip to the Greater on McDonald and 8,500 dollars less in my account. The cash was all I needed to bring her home from Seaford Long Island. And it was just a part of life you know.
I did try my best to keep them both, just bumper to bumper in my driveway. But the beauty of the new won over the memories of the old. And the insurance was too damm much anyway. A “Big Love” this was not, and the Buick had to leave. I tried hard not to get emotional when I took off the plates, just gently counting rotations as I backed off on the screws. Trying not to look into her GE headlights. But then without warning it suddenly all came back to me, the trip to Queens Village, the cigarette butts in the ashtray and the image of my uncle Frank sideswiping an Amish Buggy. The ride up my block, the trees reflecting on the hood, the guys watching me as I pulled up the driveway. No, I just couldn’t do it, No! I reversed the rotation of the screws and put the plates back on.
I think I kept the Buick for a few more years and finally just gave it away to a friend at work in 1990. She tried to offer me money for it more than once. But you know, like they say. Some Brooklyn memories you can buy, while others remain priceless forever. And that 73 Buick was nothing less than “Priceless” to me, in the Brooklyn of my youth.
David and Russell Siegel had to be the two smartest and coolest kids at PS 179 back in the late 1960’s. While the rest of us were walking around with button down shirts, red bow ties and our hair short and slicked. The Siegel brothers wore tie die t-shirts, "earth shoes", and had long blonde wavy hair way past their shoulders. They were just a couple of “Park Slope” PS 321’ers way before their time. And their parents looked like real hippies too; with sandals and matching tie die t-shirts, they probably dragged the kids up to Woodstock back in 1969 in their Volkswagen bus they parked Avenue C.
Now, while the rest of us were mostly “low achievers” and branded by our high class numbers, 4-15, 5-15, 6-18, the Siegel’s were both “SP” students, which meant they were in the “smart kid” classes. These were always the 4-1, 5-1, 6-1, low digit classes. I guess in today’s world you would just call them the “gifted” classes that everyone wants their kids to be in.
Oh, God, maybe I was in “special ed” and never knew it?
And you know what? I don’t think the Siegel’s ever studied either. I never saw them reading or doing homework, and when they were in school, they were always laughing and fooling around in the hallways. So just like some of us are born to be tall or short, the Siegel’s were just born to be smarter than anyone else.
The Siegel’s also lived directly across the street from PS 179, on the first floor of an apartment building on East 3rd and Avenue C. Most of the time they never even wore coats to school, because all they’d have to do was run across the street to class.
Now you have to understand we hardly ever saw them in school, because they were always in the “SP” classes on a different floor at PS 179. But the Siegel’s were a kind bunch you know, and always made themselves available for us to hang out with after school. Which usually meant a “play date” in their apartment directly across the street from the school.
Now our “play dates” were a little different from the ones we have today. Sure we had the same kind of “fun” your kids may have today, we laughed, played games and told jokes to each other. But the biggest difference about our late 60’s Kensington version was that our parents were nowhere to be found. And that included Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.
So what kind of “play dates” did we have you ask? Well, forget water balloons out the window or shooting marbles with a slingshot at a city bus. Killing roaches with a hair dryer?, No, we’re talking about the 60’s here, that’s 70’s fun. And Russell and David would be way too advanced for that anyway, and besides they were “SP” students. So all of our suggestions were just kid stuff in their eyes. No, we just left it up to the Segals to run the “play date”.
And the Siegel’s had a special game; a game that only a PS 179 “SP” student was capable of making up. And it usually started with them handing out real Army helmets when we walked in their apartment. I guess the ones their parents must have used during Vietnam War protests at Washington Square Park.
So what do you think? playing Army men with toy guns? No, you better think again because these were the brightest PS 179 had to offer, and you could only expect the “best” from the Siegel boys when it came to a “play date”.
“Ok, everybody put on your helmets and get behind something fast”.
With that, we would all strap on our metal Army helmets and get behind a couch or wall. With a silver frying pan in his hand, David would place it on the stovetop, and light the gas. A few moments later he would take the box of 22 caliber bullets that he pulled out of a closet, and pour them into the pan. Quickly he would run away and hide either behind a wall, console TV, or just go into his bedroom. After a couple of minutes the shells would slowly start to fry and make a "sizzling sound", and then just like popcorn popping, they would start to snap and explode. "Hit the decks" said David. The bullets just flew through the apartment, breaking glass, hitting furniture, or embedding themselves in the heavy plaster walls. And we would never move until we got the "all clear" message from David. What do you think? we were stupid.
So like I told you, only the “best” from the Siegel’s.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking, what the hell were a bunch of “low achievers” doing with a couple of “SP” students who probably became Doctors or Lawyers twenty years later. Well, I don’t know either; and all I can think is they probably just found us “entertaining”, that’s all.
So the next time your 10 year is walking around with a frying pan on his “play date”, you better check his pockets and pat him down. Because somewhere in Kensington along time ago, kids were making more than just “popcorn” on their parents stove, and sure had "fun" on their “parent-less” play dates.
Yesterday morning we woke up to a thin covering of frost in the Catskills. Basically ice covering everything including the roof of the house. Well, it's October in the Catskills and already they're calling for snow later this week. Just count your blessings that Winter in the City starts a little later.
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.
Well, here's the link to the NYC DOT website and a real time traffic camera mounted on the Prospect Expressway pointing Northbound towards Park Slope. In fact the bridge in the distance is the overpass over by Greenwood Avenue. Hey Matty, isn't that the "Snake Bridge?".
http://nyctmc.org/xbrooklyn.asp# Choose: Prospect Expressway @ Ft Hamilton Parkway
Ronnie, My best friend Steve Finamore who produces the Container Diaries sent me today 10-9-09 the piece that you wrote on your blog about my brother Drew. I just wanted to say thank you and how appreciative my family was to read that and hear those great stories involving Drew from friends that we have not heard from in many years. My parents are getting up there in age. My mom is 78 while dad turned 84. As expected their memory is not the best. My mom recently had surgery on her eyes for her glaucoma and was not able to read the story that you wrote. I printed it out and read the piece to her. After I finished reading the story my mom started to cry...partially from missing my brother but also so happy that people remembered him in a good way that made her very happy that in some small way his memory lives. The blog response was funny with some great stories. I remember the sky rink trips and the Ave F camaraderie with his friends. He loved that league on Ave F and the friendships that he had with so many guys from that time in his life. He loved hockey to no end and that league was the reason why he did so much. I am sure that he is somewhere playing with Inky, Chuckie Hadjar, Powell, and the rest who no longer walk this earth and who are in a better place. Thank you so much again for your kindness and generosity in writing that piece. You put a lot of time into your blog for it is well written and well done. Hopefully I'll run into you one of these days and chat more about those times. Take care. Sincerely, Glenn Thomas
I went to kindergarten with Patty D. at PS 179 in 1962. Yeah, and after almost 50 years we are still close friends. That kind of stuff doesn't happen much anymore. No it doesn't. Ronnie Lopez Mopar195@yahoo.com