Monday, March 19, 2018

St. Joseph's Day ~ "My Beard Itches!"

March 19th is the Feast of St. Joseph. An Upper East Side wide holiday in 1962. The St. Joseph parish on 87th Street began as an orphanage on York Avenue (then known as Avenue A) and 89th Street in the 1800s. The present church’s cornerstone was blessed in 1894. My mother and her sisters went to St. Joe’s school in the 1940s. My affection for the saint was built into me.

In second grade, I was chosen to play St. Joseph in a play in front of the St. Stephen of Hungary's student body. Everything about this excited me right up to the beard but the nun lied. She told us St. Joe was the patron saint for the U.S. Post Office and therefore in heaven he was in charge of the mail between heaven and earth.

I later found out St. Joseph had never been near a post office but had a lot of other patronage responsibilities including patron saint against doubt, for cabinetmakers, Canada, carpenters, China, confectioners, craftsmen, dying people, engineers, families, fathers, a happy death, a holy death, house hunters, Korea, laborers, Mexico, New France, Peru, pioneers, social justice, travelers, Universal Church, Vatican II, Viet Nam, working people.

Alas, I was St. Joseph in charge of Heaven's post office and as my costume got built by the Nun I got happier and happier. First, I got to wear Father Emeric's cool brown priest sandals. The sandals signaled poverty but to me they signaled taking my toes out for a walk in the cool March air. Then, I got to wear his brown robe with rope belt. The priest uniform, I had the whole priest uniform! And I could swing that Franciscan poverty rope around like a beat cop. I nailed a couple of kids in the head as I walked up to the stage. They'd get even later. Who cared?

Sister Lorraine, our teacher, had this thing for the post office and authentic historical scenes and since St. Joe had a beard I was getting a beard. I had no problem until they put the itchy wool choker on my face held on by a thick rubber band over my ears and around my neck that cut off the blood to my brain. I couldn't stand it, and though I knew my lines I had a problem getting them out of my mouth through the beard to the audience. I fixed that. Every time I spoke I lifted the contraption off my face and spoke my lines out of the side of my mouth. It was my last feature role.


If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble or other booksellers. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon. 
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

I Don't Advise This Diet

"I've run out of things to put Hellman's on."

Disgusting with a weight gain related to a two month back problem and my weakness for crap, I'm not shopping until I eat my way through my pantry and freezer. This requires rarely available creative thought. 

I started with my last bonafide treat, one sliced knockwurst on my last Eggo waffle with the skimmed mayo off the side of my last jar of Hellman's.

Wednesday, Seabrook's creamed spinach with Ronzoni Pastini , a near treat thanks to powdered cilantro & garlic & cayenne pepper. 

Thursday, spooned a half jar of Rao Mariana sauce with fluffed couscous. 

Friday, frozen Broccoli florets with a handful of dry roasted nuts from a Mr. Peanut's jar. 

Last night, olives, bread and butter pickle chips and a can of Progresso split pea soup. 

Tonight, Eureka! I found a slice of American cheese in a plastic coat under the lettuce I was saving for a rainy day. I put bacon bits on the slice and a drizzle of Russian dressing and made believe it was on a Thomas's English Muffin. 

Dessert was frozen string beans with .

Tomorrow's dinner, last man standing, Progresso New England Clam Chowder in can with an array of powdered spices.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Madame Butterfly Goes Down

In 2008, my first short story was published hard copy in Thomas Beller's anthology, "Lost & Found: Stories From New York." Here is the true tale.

"Madame Butterfly Goes Down." 

Last Saturday night, I had smelly cheese, cashews, black bean dip, spooned Hellmann’s and three Coronas for dinner. I over-bought crap for company, it’s causing me stomach problems, but I have to finish the stuff.

Sunday morning, I met a writing editor on Cathedral Parkway who took too much money to tell me too little about my work. I left her apartment feeling down.

Driving east, I saw a woman trip in the middle of Manhattan Avenue. She hit her head. I parked along side her forcing traffic around the scene. Her face was pressed to the asphalt. It was hard to see how injured she was. Someone called an ambulance. After a few minutes, she turned her head towards me. She was bleeding from two cuts, one on her nose and one on her lip, but otherwise looked OK. Her name was Grace, an Asian lady in her sixties, curly gray hair and weak English. I knew her name because the guy helping me help her was her neighbor in the tall building across the street. Once Grace got her bearings, me and the other fellow walked Grace into her lobby. After she sat down, she tried to force an envelope into my hands.

“Take this, take this.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Take this, take this.”

The other guy said take it, so I took it. On the sidewalk, I opened it and found a single ticket for Madame Butterfly at Lincoln Center, Row A in the Second Ring. Performance started at one thirty. It was twelve thirty five.

My life-long opera experience was limited to Alfalfa’s Barber of Seville, Elmer Fudd’s Siegfried & Bugs Bunny’s Brunhilde. Despite this handicap, my interest was high because the “Un bel di, vedremo” aria was my Mom’s favorite music. Coming home from school, if I heard this sorrowful melody coming through my front door, I knew Mom was having a special afternoon. She’d have a look on her face that nothing else ever put there.

I parked the car on East 82nd Street, dropped my stuff off and hailed a cab at one o’clock. The Greek parade cut off cross-town traffic through Central Park. We ended up going down to 53rd Street, to go west, and back up Eighth to get to Broadway and 63rd Street. I made it on the button.

Walking through Lincoln Center’s plaza, I felt a breeze on my crotch through the hole in my dungarees. I remembered Mom pulling me back into our Yorkville apartment when I tried to sneak out of the house in a torn shirt. She’d be so proud.

Entering the theatre’s second ring, sitting in my first row seat at the end of the aisle, I floated back to the late ’60s when I regularly scored a single ticket for a New York Giant football game at old Yankee Stadium. Being at the opera was strange and familiar at the same time.

Despite my best efforts, Act One had me on the ropes – the dark space, the sweet music and a comfy chair conspired. I couldn’t stay awake. I was having these mini-dreams involving Sigourney Weaver, loose clothing and me. I didn’t want to stay awake. I only needed to hear Mom’s aria in the second act. Unfortunately, the lady next to me was an arm-rest hog. She was eating and swigging soda with a friend, and felt that half my air space was sovereign for her meat hook. Every time Sigourney went to lick my ear, my neighbor’s elbow took my arm out from under itself, like a judo leg swing.

At one point, my glasses flew off when my chin bounced off the wood arm-rest. In the distance, I heard B.F. Pinkerton romancing Cio Cio San in Italian, my ancestors’ tongue. I didn’t understand a word. Recovering my specs, I plotted revenge.

Gathering all the gas in my intestinal tract, I secured it in a single room right above my exit passage. I held it still. Saturday night’s meal was the perfect storm. I built pressure and blocked it. When I fatigued my sphincter muscle, I lifted my right cheek and let her blow. The strength of the release lifted the rest of my ass off my seat. Using my arms, I arched right to ensure my aim was true. The cloud sucked the oxygen out of the air. When the wind died down, I got a quick look at the woman’s face, her bushy eyebrows were waving and she was barely conscious, then I ran out to the lobby.

After the intermission, my neighbor switch seats with her friend. I had no further arm-rest issue. The cold air during the break woke me up and I was all there, listening to the beautiful soprano sing “Un bel di, vedremo” gorgeously. I cried, thought of Mom, it felt good.

During the second intermission, I scouted one of the information tables in the lobby. There was a brochure for a free Big Band concert the following week. An attractive volunteer leaned into me.

“Do you like Big Band music?”

“I adore it.” I answered.

“You’re kind of young to be into it.”

“I have all my Dad’s reel to reel tapes, Dorseys, Miller, James, Shaw and many more. We fought over music, but ended up liking a lot of the same stuff.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. My late husband loved the Big Bands. I have 150 albums that he played all the time.” She said.

“You’re very lucky, I love vinyl.”

“I don’t listen anymore, I have most of the stuff on CD and that’s fine for me.”

“Give them to your kids.”

“They don’t listen and don’t want them. Would you like them?”

“That’d be great, but please think about it before giving them away.”

“No, no, I’ve thought about it, and they’re clutter to me. I’d feel much better if someone was enjoying them.” Edith smiled.

She and I exchanged personal information and kept talking until the chimes went off signaling the start of the third act.

As I walked back to Ring Two, I thought about my day. I thought about Grace and her cut face. I thought about Mom humming along to Madame Butterfly. I thought about Dad’s devotion to Sinatra and our fights over Francis Albert’s best song. I figured my day at the opera would give any O. Henry story character a run for their money.

I’m picking up the records next week.

Check out my 1960s memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." at Logos Book Store, or purchase the book online at Amazon (127 five-star reviews out of 127 posted) or Barnes & Noble ~ and buy "River to River ~ New York Scenes From a Bicycle" my photography portfolio online.

1960s' street life

Saturday, December 30, 2017

York Avenue Slipping Away

Yorkville, New York, our neighborhood slips away. On the east side of York Avenue from 86 Street towards 85 Street, 1632-1618 York Avenue nears clearance for demolition. 
My memories are solid, but I'm sad these three-story beauties, iconic anchors in my family's history, are coming down.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

There Will Be Blood

At 16, my dream job was working behind the deli counter at Daitch Shopwell. As a stock boy this would be a coup. Watching Milton or Marty cut thin slices of rare roast beef and Jarlsberg Swiss, I cried with pain. Pain that some son of a bitch was going to eat that tasty mound of meat and cheese and it wouldn’t be me. One Saturday in 1970, Milton got sick and Marty asked if I wanted to help him out for the ladies afternoon cold cut rush?
Did I want to see Emma Peel nude?
Did I want Ranger tickets on the glass?
Stupid questions, of course I wanted to be in the deli. And there I was, helping Marty make orders and sneaking bits of delicious cold cuts left and right into my mouth. I gained five pounds that day.

The following month, Milton was scheduled to be off for two Saturdays in a row, and Marty talked Harry Cohen, #16 store manager, into letting me cover. “Harry, you’ll save money using the kid!” Harry looked like Mr. Dithers from the Blondie comic strip. He pulled his starched collar, wiggled his neck with the huge hairy mole and said, “OK.”

I brought my LaSalle Academy schoolbag in. It was well used and had holes in its four corners from me throwing it around the subway platform while waiting for the #6 local at Bleecker Street. I needed the bag. I had no control this close to the goods. I talked Marty into letting me cover up the salads so he could leave early. This left me alone with the roast beef and Jarlsburg. I finely cut 3/4 of a pound each on the slicer, wrapped them like a spastic, and shoved the wax paper lumps into my bag. Making sure Pete the Assistant Manager saw how good a job I did cleaning the sawdust off the deli floor, I gathered my bag and said good night to all and went around the registers towards the exit. Two steps from the automatic door, I heard, “Pryor!” I turned towards the voice. The Assistant Manager was looking down. I followed his eyes and saw a long trail of blood leading from Pete’s feet to my LaSalle bag.
“Drip, drip, drip,”
I listened to the faint sound of my thieving deli days being cut off.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Spotless Cleaners

Fifty-three years ago, a ten- year-old simp walked straight into his father's bear trap...

... Nearing the 1964 Christmas break during my fifth grade, thirteen inches of snow blanketed my street on a late Thursday evening. Losing a school day to the elements was a beautiful thing.

Friday morning, my friends and I mushed over to Central Park towing our sleds through the middle of the street. Milking the day to the last of the light, we rode every hill until our feet froze. Back from the sleigh ride, I plopped down outside my apartment on the hall stairs and began undressing. Mom refused to let me inside the apartment. She, slush and dog poop were mortal enemies. As I worked my top layer off, I heard my father's familiar step coming up the stairs.

He mumbled to himself, "Damn, I forgot the suit." Noticing me, his eye focused on my half untied snow boots. "Tommy here's the ticket, hurry to the cleaners. I need that suit for the wedding."
“OOOOOOOOOOhhhhhh,” left my mouth as I rose slowly.
"Go!" Dad ordered.

I death marched down the stairs. Dad behind me, "FASTER they're going to close in 5 minutes."

When I got there, Joe, the Spotless Cleaners manager was turning off the lights. Smiling with an edge he opened the door. 
"Come in Tommy, be quick, I want to get out of here."

Deed done. I earned a slow walk home. A slow meandering trek through every snow pile between the store and my building. Walking deliberately, I was Hannibal's elephant moving over the Alps, going knee deep with every step.  I moved the suit to the back of my pea coat, resting the hanger's hook on the back of my collar. This left both hands free for better balance. My serpentine trip created swirling desire paths over each snow pile.

Calculated attention paid to each hill stretched my normal five-minute trip home to half an hour. With the satisfaction of a Sherpa's job well done, I danced a jig and rang the bell in the vestibule harking my return and an incredible urge to pee.  Running up the stairs, Dad greeted me at the door, "Where the hell were you?"

I said nothing, smirked and turned my back, offering Dad his suit from its resting-place on the nape of my neck. I ran into the bathroom, worked off my jeans, long johns, and two pairs of underwear just in time.

Stepping back into the kitchen, Dad met me face to face at the bathroom door holding up the suit.
"Nice jacket. Where are my pants?"
"Huh", I mumbled.
"My pants, where are my pants?"

A clothes hanger never had as thorough an examination as the one I put that hanger through. The pants were not on it, in it; on top it, under it. There were no pants. The jacket, the jacket was good. Two sleeves, pressed cleaned, all that. But the pants, the pants made no appearance despite multiple prayers under my breath. I was the baffled volunteer from the audience looking for the rabbit in the hat and finding it unbelievable it was gone.

Dad put his slacks on and said, "Lets' go."

Down to Hades we descended, third floor, second floor, first floor, no pants. Hallway, no pants. Down the building's stoop, no pants.

Dad, "So which way did you walk exactly?"

This is where it got tricky. I set a new record for a dramatic pause. My mouth agape, he asked again, "Exactly - where - did - you - walk?

Words failed me. I didn't even try. I owned too many fruitless experiences responding to similar requests from my father. Trying to answer unanswerable questions to even begin thinking about opening my mouth. Left with nothing to say I showed him my exact path. Every nuance. Every turn. Every double step. At one point, I did the cha-cha one up, two back, one up. I was possessed. I mirrored my entire walk never measuring how pissed off my path of greatest resistance home was making him. When Dad and I had these special moments an eerie stillness set in. No yelling, no accusations. Only the 'look' with sharp orders.

"Go left." 
"Are you sure you weren’t under any cars?"

Hill after hill we climbed towards the avenue, policing the grounds. Despite the fact, Dad's pants were charcoal and the streets contained nothing but white snow, he insisted we walk very slowly. You couldn’t miss ‘em. The cleaners were closed.

Walking back to our building, same story. Every hill walked serpentine with the look and the short barked orders. After one last look under the car directly in front of the house, we marched the stoop and began our ascent to Hades, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, into the apartment. Passing through the door, Dad gave Mom the look and then me one more look for good luck.  He went directly over to his jacket on the hanger with the plastic still on it. Dad held it up – then draped it over his arm. Together they resembled Michelangelo's Pieta. I think he was saying goodbye. It might have been my imagination, but I thought I saw him talk to the jacket.

"We have closed many bars together, old friend." Dad sighed, “I will miss the way the secretary at Pepsi looked at you, on me, when we did our sales calls."

Dad said no more about the suit.

Two weeks later, I'm playing in front of my house and Dad comes walking up the street. Getting closer, I see he has on a charcoal jacket. Oh God, I'm thinking, he bought the same suit again. Not good.

"Hi Dad, is that the suit. It looks great. Did you buy it again?"

"Nope, same suit." Dad said with a smile, "Every suit comes with two pairs of pants."


If you like my work check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." Available at Logos Book Store or online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The book has 127 Amazon five star reviews out of 127 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs. You can also purchase my photography portfolio, "River to River - New York Scenes From a Bicycle" on Amazon.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Yorkville Is His Home

My Dad's best friend, Walter, 93 years old with severe memory loss, moved two weeks ago from his 1942 railroad apartment (yep, linoleum as old as Methuselah) to a beautiful one bedroom in Yorkville. Walter, 93 years in the neighborhood. St. Joseph's, Commerce High School, NYU, Navy,  48 years with Pan Am Airlines ending with a long ride as the Director of World Wide Maintenance. He's travelled to 35 countries with photos to prove it.

After losing most of his memoryWalter hoarded. His clean organized new space is unusual to him but he's getting use to it. The guy loves our neighborhood. 93 years in Yorkville. More to come. 
Walt with chums on roof of St. Joe's @ 1936

east river

517 E. 83rd where I grew up

Here are photos of Walt at St. Joe's in the 1930s, Carl Schurz, his favorite park and 83rd Street where I grew up.
Walter had a Sister Beatrice. No kidding.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just One Look

You'll never guess who I saw on Roosevelt Island two years ago. 
"The Ring" Lady! 
We chatted, we strolled, 
then she stopped my heart 

The eye 
The dance move