Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer's Last Breathe

Here are photos from Central Park over the last few days of summer. It's time for your autumn sweater.

ps buy this amazing Yo Lo Tengo record if you don't own it, "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One."  It will cheer you up whether you need to be cheered up or not.







“I Hate the Dallas Cowboys – tales of a scrappy New York boyhood.” The book release party is Tuesday, October 14th @ Cornelia Street Cafe @ 5:30pm – 8pm 
My special guests: Leslie Goshko & Adam Wade. 

I’ll also read and sign at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86 St on Friday, October 17th @ 7pm in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

You can pre-order the book online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Early praise for the book:


“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”

Kevin Baker, author of the novels “Dreamland,” Paradise Alley,” and “Strivers Row,” as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction


“Tommy Pryor’s New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read.”

Robert Lipsyte, former city and sports columnist, The New York Times

“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.”

Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of “Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall”


“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.”

Thomas Beller, author of “J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist”













Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Half-Birthday!

Why at 60 do I remember my half birthday is tomorrow? I never forget. The reason is Uncle Norman.
Mom had this thing with shoe stores. She always complained her feet hurt. We’d go in and out of Yorkville’s many shoe stores looking for the perfect comfortable shoe that she never found. Rory and I played on the store’s big ladder on wheels flying it back and forth across the floor with one of us hanging off with one arm free in front of the customers. This usually stopped when the clerk or Mom threw something at us. Then we’d pick up the foot-measuring device. It was all metal and looked like it held some secret code with its side measuring knobs. It must have been expensive because the clerk went bananas when we threw it. Rory tried on spiked heels he grabbed from the store’s front window display. He’d wobble up and down the carpet smiling from side to side. I studied him with one hand to my chin and my elbow to my leg. Involuntarily, my head swayed with him as he traveled back and forth, back and forth.

Rory and I liked two shoe stores best. One was “Salamander Shoes” on 86th Street. The other was “Buster Brown” on 83rd Street. Each store had a kid gimmick. Uncle Norman in “Buster Brown” always made sure he knew your birthday. Then he’d send you a birthday card. Six months later, he’d send you another card wishing you a happy half-birthday. I’d get my half-birthday card and say out loud, “Boy that Uncle Norman is one swell guy. Hey Mom, I need a new pair of shoes. What do you think?”


Mom delivered her look. First of all, I never cared whether I had any shoes much less new ones. I only cared about new sneakers. The only thing that triggered me getting a new pair of shoes was a good rainstorm after a hole in my shoe’s sole developed. Either, I’d get home from school and Mom would notice my socks were wet, or I’d take off my blue socks and Mom would notice my feet were blue from the sock’s dye. Only then, Mom said, “Tomorrow we go for new shoes.”

The other store’s gimmick was a beauty. Salamander was the high-end shoe store in the neighborhood. If you had orthopedic needs, this was the place. I tested the laws of gravity by dropping my body from rarefied heights. My feet took most of the damage and had orthopedic needs. Here’s the gimmick. Salamander gave you a balloon with every pair of new shoes. What the cheapskates failed to give you was helium. The balloon was nice but filled with mere air; to hold it aloft Salamander’s management decided to put it on a straightened out metal shirt hanger. You left the store flying your balloon majestically above the stick of metal. Most kids never made it a full block before the metal punctured the balloon. This left an extremely disappointed kid carrying a straightened out hanger with a shred of rubber dangling from its tip. Most times, the kid took his frustration out on another kid. 


If you were lucky, you might witness two kids leaving the store with their balloons at the same time. Walking in the same direction, smiles on their faces, arms outstretched, hoisting their balloons toward the clouds, screaming without sound, “Hey look at me!” “No, look at me!” Suddenly one of the balloons burst. With no pause, the victim turned toward the still breathing balloon delivering a deathblow.


This is an excerpt from my new book, “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys – tales of a scrappy New York boyhood.” The release party is Tuesday, October 14th @ Cornelia Street Cafe @ 6pm – 8pm. I’ll also read and sign at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86 St on Friday, October 17th @ 7pm in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side.


Early praise for the book:



“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”

Kevin Baker, author of the novels “Dreamland,” Paradise Alley,” and “Strivers Row,” as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction


“Tommy Pryor’s New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read.”

Robert Lipsyte, former city and sports columnist, The New York Times




“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.”

Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of “Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall”


“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.”

Thomas Beller, author of “J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rory's Face Makes Me Happy

My passion for New York City and it's neighborhoods developed a long time ago when Dad and Mom dragged us all over town walking, biking, subways, cabs, boats and buses. We had no car so we never got anywhere quickly. This left a lot of time to think about what we were seeing and where we were going, and view things more slowly than if you flew by in a Buick. As a kid you tend to pick something visual to focus on to avoid boredom and my brother, Rory, and I had lots of targets.

Add Dad's obsessive photo taking, and I ended up with a broad pictorial record of most of our trips around the city in the 1950s and 1960s. In most of these photographs, Rory is front and center, the lead player in the scene. My powerful memories revive the action.

Looking at these pictures, Rory's engaged photogenic face always makes me think we had a better time than we really did. I never mind this delusion.


Rory passed away sixteen years ago today. He was 42. Rory was a terrific artist. He sketched, sculpted and painted. When Rory wasn't doing his art, he struggled. Each day was hard for him. I wish it was otherwise, and I miss him. My photos give me comfort, but it'd be more fun doing it with Rory. Making art together. I wish he were here.






Mom & Baby Elephant by Rory Pryor



Rory, 18 years old

Friday, September 12, 2014

Yorkville's Bread Wars

"Wonder Bread, again." Dad threw his hands up.
"Will you shut up!" Mom never turned from the stove.
"You never bring food home I enjoy."
"You're a liar. We eat friggin’ spaghetti six nights a week. If you came home seven nights a week, we'd never eat anything else."
Rory and I nodded our heads in agreement. Our eyes were bloodshot from eating gallons of Mom's marinara sauce. Having hamburgers or franks was a national holiday. That there was Wonder Bread in the house was one of our few food victories. We loved it. Dad loved Silvercup. Mom didn't care and hated food shopping. She'd never go to a second store and whatever bread was left on the shelf, was the bread she bought including the dreaded Taystee Bread.
I knocked off Irish sandwiches all week for snacks, Wonder Bread, Iceberg Lettuce and Hellman's mayonnaise. Mom taught us not to waste time with a knife when you could go straight to the tablespoon for a thick layer of mayo on the bread.
"Make sure there's clearance between the bread and the lettuce." She said with full eye contact.
Once, our Italian grandmother bought Miracle Whip and tried to pawn it off to Rory and me as mayo. We left the house in protest.
"If it ain't got a blue label, we ain't eating it."
Dad pouted over Wonder Bread, but used it to clean his plate. I think he secretly liked it. But anytime Silvercup came up, he'd start talking about when I was kid this, and I was a kid that, Silvercup was one of his comfort foods. I got that. But it tasted like crap compared to Wonder, and that made no sense to me that it was in our house.
We had relatives in Sunnyside. We'd take the bus over the 59th Street Bridge to visit. I always sat on one side of the bus with the window open even if it was ten degrees, so I could pick up the aroma coming from the Silvercup bread factory. This drove the bus driver crazy, but I didn't care, the heavenly smell of that bread was my favorite smell on earth, right up to when my first girlfriend started wearing Cachet perfume.
I'd watch everyone's face on the bus, most had pusses on, but once the smell of the fresh hot bread came through the window under their noses, those frowns melted and everyone looked like they were pining for a cup of hot coffee and a stick of butter to go with the warm bread. When I got back home, and tried Silvercup, it tasted like toilet paper. Wonder was the king of bread, it would build my strong body in twelve different ways and there'd be no substitutes.
When Wonder and Silvercup ran out in the grocery store, Mom would grab a loaf of Taystee, always the last milk bottle standing when it came to bread brands. I was convinced that the only people who bought Taystee bread willingly were survivors of electric shock therapy who missed it. I figured they put a couple of slices of Taystee bread in your mouth right before they juiced the electricity, so you didn't bite your tongue off once they lit you up. Taystee bread, drier than a communion host, could have no other useful purpose.
Dad, Rory and I never ganged up on Mom, except when she brought Taystee home. When she did, the loaf sat there like a lost soul. Toast, cold cuts, sticks of butter, nothing could entice the three of us to touch the outcast bread. Through the week it hardened. When we thought we'd defeated Mom, and the loaf would be replaced with an acceptable brand, she turned the screw. She made pot roast. Mom knew her best dish sent Dad, Rory and I into a frenzy. We begged her to pour a bucket of delicious gravy over our bread with thin slices of tender meat. Pot roast without bread wasn't pot roast. If there were such a thing as rat bread, the three of us wouldn't have cared, and would have welcomed yummy pot roast over our rat bread.

We surrendered and Mom rotated her stock.


My Book Release Party for "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood" is Tuesday, October 14th @ Cornelia Street Cafe @ 5:30pm to 8pm - followed three days later by a book event at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86 St on Friday, October 17th @ 7pm in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

Praise coming in for the book:

“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood.  A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”
Kevin Baker, author of the novels "Dreamland," Paradise Alley," and "Strivers Row," as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction

"Tommy Pryor's New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read."
Robert Lipsyte, former city and sports columnist, The New York Times

“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.”
Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of "Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall"

“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.”
Thomas Beller, author of "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist"



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two Stellar Reviews for "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood"

Two outstanding reviews from Kevin Baker and Robert Lipsyte for "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New york boyhood." They both loved the book.

In their words...

“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.”

Kevin Baker, author of the novels "Dreamland," Paradise Alley," and "Strivers Row," as well as other works of fiction and nonfiction.


"Tommy Pryor's New York City boyhood was nothing like mine, a few
miles and a borough away, and yet in its heart, tenderness, and tough teachable moments
around Dad and ball, it was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read."

Robert Lipsyte, author and former city and sports columnist, The New York Times


This book doesn't happen without the fine editing job by Francis Flaherty, New York's best story editor. Thank you, Frank.


"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood" book release party @ Tuesday, October 14th @ City Stories: Stoops to Nuts @ Cornelia Street Cafe - followed by a book event at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86 St on Friday, October 17th @ 7pm in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side."




Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Spaldeen & Me

Preparations for a perfect summer day required a delicate dance

Yesterday, I strolled through Central Park. Resting on a bench in front of the Delacorte Theater, I turned my eyes to the center of the Great Lawn. I saw myself lying face up on the grass at 9 years old, throwing a ball up in the air as far as I could, never letting my back lose contact with the ground.

Summer 1963: “Mom, please give me a quarter, I’m dying, come on, give me a quarter, I really need a quarter, I’m on my knee, Uncle Mommy, I want a quarter!”
Mom gave me a dime and spun me toward the door out of the apartment. I’d already had six cents. Walking up 83rd Street, I went through everybody’s garbage and found five soda bottles. That made 10 cents plus my sixteen. When Murray Parker passed me the deposit money, he made a face because I didn’t buy anything from him. I had my quarter plus a penny. The quarter triggered my dilemma: three of my favorite things cost 25 cents.
My first consideration was crap. My favorite crap combo was a 16-ounce Pepsi with Yankee Doodles, three to a pack. Brilliant! That gorgeous, swirled bottle's what a grip! I never dropped it, and I dropped everything. If other kids had 12-ounce sodas you’d torture them, finishing the 16-ouncer real slow with sound effects, “Oh my God, that’s good, …Oooooh! The third Yankee Doodle was a gift. You never got three things. After the second doodle, your mouth would calm down, disappointed nothing further was going in it. Then, all of a sudden, your mouth is being stuffed for a third time with fluffy chocolate cake and cavity-causing vanilla crème. If you’re lucky, a gob of crème stays on your upper lip for a while and you don’t realize it’s there until your tongue goes out for a walk and brings it back into your mouth. The third cupcake went down your throat like a royal coach.
Occasionally, I’d ignore my stomach and consider choice number two: a balsa wood glider. They all had names' like Hornet, Mustang or Scout. The aircraft’s propeller was powered by a rubber band. In a classroom, you could make a plane out of a sheet of loose leaf and, at best, clock a kid in the noggin four or five rows away. With a propeller on your plane, you were going places. Exotic flight plans danced through my head before the first journey. Sometimes there was no second flight. The plane was fragile. This was a short life toy, like having a butterfly for a pet.

Winding the propeller up, I’d send her off. The glider sailed passed the German butcher, narrowly missing the store’s awning. Climbing to the second story it veered left, hitting a wall of wind, did two quick loops and landed on a fire escape.
The painful memory of these lost aircraft led me to door number three: a Spaldeen. A high-bouncing, reject tennis ball. You tested its quality by dropping it from shoulder height. The one you picked must have superior bounce.
In Joe’s Candy Store, Id proceed with my ritual. During a test, you developed immunity to being shooed away.
“Pick a ball and get out of here.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“They’re all good.” He grabbed one and squeezed it. “See?”
He almost smiled. This frightened me.
“Yes,” I said, “but one of them is better than all the others.”
“You just tried that one,” he said.
“Not true. I have a system. I repeat no ball.”
“I repeat: Pick a friggin’ ball!”
I found one, said, “Bye, Joe,” and left a quarter on the counter.
Working my way down my street, I joined games already in progress that moved me: Ace, King, Queen, and then some Off the Point. Finally, I’d run over to Central Park and find a perfect spot in the middle of the Great Lawn, lie on my back and toss the ball as high as possible, over, over and over again. Nothing eased loneliness like a game of catch even when it was just my Spaldeen and me.


"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood" book release party @ Tuesday, October 14th @ City Stories: Stoops to Nuts @ Cornelia Street Cafe - followed by a book event at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86 St on Friday, October 17th @ 7pm in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side."