Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up On the Roof

When this old world starts getting me down,
And people are just too much for me to face.
I climb way up to the top of the stairs,
And all my cares just drift right into space.
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be.
And there the world below can't bother me.

Up on the Roof (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)

All sides of my family made regular use of their tenement roofs. Spring, summer and fall, they played cards & music, read, swung on ropes, hid under canopies, raced pigeons, dried clothes, laughed, fought, made up. Extension cords allowed you to bring every electronic device to the roof except for your refrigerator and washer if you had one. Breathing the rarefied air on the roof, you laid your troubles down.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Memorial Day

"What's today?"
No, the date?"
"May 30th"
Nan looked looked out the window across the street, and got wet in the eyes.
"What's a matter?"

She didn't answer, I tried again.

"Nan, what's bothering you?"



"My cousin."

Your cousin, who?"

"My older cousin."

I had my hint.

"Pasquale, your older cousin?"

"He died."

"OK, where did he die?"



It was May 1999. I was at Nan's bedside at the Jewish Home on 106th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. She'd just passed her fourth anniversary in Room Frank 510 - we didn't celebrate.

"We're you guys close?"

Nan looked up, her eyes milky with macular degeneration.

"He was my best friend."

She was 12 in 1918, lived on 75th Street & York Avenue. Nan told me Pasquale lived around the corner and walked her to school when he wasn't working in the cigar factory on 69th Street.

"I was a tomboy, he'd always played catch with me, and he got me out of trouble with my mother ~ she loved him. He was tall, and always stepped in when she was ready to give me a whack. He'd pick Mom up and spin her round. She'd forgot all about me."

81 years later, my grandmother, 93, was remembering her cousin, Pasquale, with love.
Memorial Day fell on May 3oth. It started after the Civil War. It was a somber day, no fireworks ~ honor guards honoring the flag, and a long moment of silence at the ball game remembering those who died for their country.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Missing Rory

Dad took us on excursions all around the City. I have photographic records showing more mileage covered than the entire New York subway system. Rory and Dad's camera fell in love, and never stopped the affair. I'm always rediscovering, Rory for an instant, making a mundane place into the most exciting place on earth. He did it in Central Park. We lived 10 minutes away, went there 1000 times, if you look at Rory in the Central Park photos, you'd think it was his first trip to Disneyland. He did the same thing at Yankee Stadium (he hated sports), or in a snow pile. I know we had fun sometimes, but looking at these pictures confuses me, since a lot of the time things weren't so great and miserable stuff comes back. Seeing Rory's excitement in these photos keeps the crappy memories at bay. Not forever, but long enough.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Johnny on the Pony

I lost both my hips. Their decline was due to poor genetic lotto and a thousand games played on concrete and asphalt. One stood out ~ Johnny on the Pony ~ a game of immense endurance and stupidity.

Game’s strategy involved one team (the pony) forming a long bent over row like a Chinese New Year’s dragon, while the other team lined up to jump on, as hard as possible, trying to collapse the pony. The pony started with one guy against a fence facing everyone else. He was the anchor. Next fellow would bend over gripping the anchor’s sides with his butt in the air. All others would follow suit till the line resembled Hannibal’s’ elephants stumbling over the Alps. Once the line formed, the Johnnies would begin to strategize….game usually included at least ten to a side, so ten Johnnies got ready to put their weight and flaring elbows on top of the prone ponies. Game ended when the pony collapsed or all Johnnies rode without falling off for a count of ten one thousands.
For my hips, this game had the same allure as open battlefield surgery without anesthesia. Matthew Brady was seen setting up his equipment taking photographic stills of our events. The Johnnies usually sent their smallest first and they shimmied up the pony towards the anchor, then they sent their largest and aimed for the weakest links. Best area to land was no man’s land between the thoracic and lumbar regions. Hopefully, catching no soft tissue and driving yourself straight into bone. Attention was spent on developing jumping technique. Since the teams had ten or more, the weakest link might be bent over way up front. Therefore you wanted to attain maximum height and distance. You would study television cartoons trying to learn the secret of freezing in the air for a few seconds at the top of your arc….this is critical to allow gravity to pull your body back to the earth maximizing impact into your opponent’s neck and back. Once landed, you'd make grapes with your hienie ~ making big rocks into little rocks, grinding away at the millstone pushing your butt into the fellow beneath you, as if the chance of a single remaining air bubble between you and him would bring life as we know it to an end.
As the pile grew the moans and groans of the pony filled the air like a children’s orchestra at their first ever practice. From the top of the mountain, the sounds below played in your head like a beautiful siren song. If it was a particular strong pony the Johnnies went to the Tower of Babel strategy. With less than three jumpers in the shoot, all the Johnnies would begin to gather at one location in the chain, usually over he who could use the most relief. Once the spot was chosen, the Johnnies would gravitate to that point assuming classic Greco-Roman moves to cling together. The tower would rise at the perceived weak spot. Unintelligible orders and exclamations, flying out of the ball of human, braying and swaying like a deranged fire hose, while underneath the ponies began acting like a band of rogue elephants readying a stampede of the defenseless village.
Non participants played a recurring game ~ try and grab a sound fragment out of the pile and convince others it was English… “I understood that one, it was Freddy, and he said, ‘Christ, get off my foot and stop grabbing my balls.’”
The tug of war would roll on until the pony broke, or the Johnnies rode the pony for the required time. It was hard to watch and not play, but if you did, you were rewarded with a show that combined all the best elements of a tragic ballet with a terrific car accident. A collapse was a beautiful kaleidoscope for your five senses, rich complex detail. I imagine Sam Peckinpah would not have developed his keen eye for transfixing violence into a sumptuous slow motion dance unless he witnessed a bunch of Johnny on the Pony game-ending collapses.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.
All our Johnny on The Pony games between 1962 & 1975 were played in the Hockey Field in Carl Schurz Park, or down John Jay Park. Photos above are Carl Schurz, John Jay, and the east side of York Avenue between 84th Street & 83rd Street.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Cheese! Poll Results

Hi Folks, thank you, to everyone who voted. I deeply appreciate your ideas and suggestions.
be well, Tommy
Here are the final results:
Nostalgia ~ family & neighborhood (68%)
More Photos (65%)
Nostalgia ~ general (62%)
Surreal stories (34%)
Serious essays (31%)
Music (18%)
Sports (15%)
Less Photos (0%)
the orginal request:
Hi Folks, I want to improve the blog, and I need your help. Please take the poll on the left and let me know what topics you most enjoy: Nostalgia, general and/or local to the Yorkville, Manhattan neighborhood; current events, serious essays, surreal stories, music, sports, photos, more or less, etc.
If I've missed something, please email me.
I aim to focus on areas you'd like to see me open up.
I deeply appreciate your input, and I'll consider all your suggestions.
Thank you, Tommy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Nice Italian Wedding & Mama D's @ Thursday Night

Here my Italian side, the Cuccia's (landed at 1403 York Avenue in 1896) & the Gallopo's (landed in Lido, New Jersey about the same time) gather for the wedding of Phil & Jennie in 1945. Several men who would be there, are not there, because they are still in World War II military service. Everybody looks happy, and knowing 90 percent of the people in the photo, they weren't faking it. Most here, thoroughly enjoyed living and rarely sat down between work and their interests. Most of my endurance and stick-tuitiveness comes from this end of the family.
On top, in the cutout photo, are Bob Pryor (Dad) & his cousin, Dottie Gallopo (both 16 yrs old).
The bottom cut out is my grandmother, the former, Anna Cuccia with her brother, Joe Cuccia. Joe's nickname was Cheech he played baseball with Jimmy Cagney and his brother Bill on the Yorkville Nut Baseball Club. They also went to PS 158 together. Joe worked with the Long Island Press for many years at Queensboro Plaza. He played centerfield for their softball team. I have box scores. Joe made it to 42 years old as a bachelor, he lived on and off with his sister, my father's family at 1582 York Avenue, then Joe married a very pretty Italian woman named Mary who wrote cookbooks. Joe smoked Guinea stinkers, a long and twisted Italian cigar. They smelled awful.
Tell you something that doesn't smell, Mama D's Arts Bordello, this Thursday night at 8pm at Parkside Lounge. Terrific entertainment.
Mama D's Arts Bordello Presents: Choose Your Own Adventure
DATE: Thursday, May 28th
TIME: 8pm
PLACE: The Parkside Lounge
ADDRESS: 317 E. Houston (between Aves. B and C)
COVER: $5.00

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rocky Colavito Improved My Batting Practice Experience

Memorial Day week, reminds me of going up to Yankee Stadium early for a night game to watch batting practice.
"Come on, Dad, Lets' go."

I ran up to Dad as he got off the crosstown bus at 86th Street & York Avenue. It was 5:30pm on May 24, 1965. Late spring, when it began being warm enough in the evening to sit in the stands wearing just a sweatshirt.
The previous Saturday night, Dad and I watched a Yankee game on our tenement roof using every extension cord in the house. "You're both nuts," Mom said to Dad's ass as he climbed out on our fourth floor fire escape with the cords. Once we settled in with kitchen chairs, a card table for the TV and a spaghetti pot full of ice, beer and soda, Dad said to me, "We got to get up to the Stadium for a game before they go on the road."
The game start was 8pm.

We jumped into a cab in front of the Mansion Diner and shot up the FDR. At the Stadium, Dad bought reserved seats in section 15, half way between the Yankee dugout and the right field foul pole. I still have the stub.
Dad wrote in the line-ups while I bounced my eyes around the mostly empty ballpark. I smelled cigars, peanuts, and freshly cut grass. This was when I liked the Stadium best. Just the ballplayers on the field and us, real fans, in the stands. You practically had a whole section to yourself, if you didn't count the hundred kids assembled in right or left field waiting anxiously for imminent home runs, depending on whether the batter was left handed or right handed. The gaggle of kids would travel all away around the ballpark to the other side of the field to get in position for a lefty or righty during batting practice. Watching them run was like a Peanuts cartoon soccer game. Dad wasn't nuts about me being in that group yet,"when you're a little older," he wouldn't let me go by myself, and hated flying around with me, "Let's stay here, this way, if the ball comes this way, you'll have it all to yourself."
There was no sense arguing with the man, so I focused on the good. With so few people around us, I could hear the ballplayers yell at each other as they played pepper and threw it around the outfield. I got an idea who like each other, and who tortured each other.
The Indians were finishing their batting practice. Leon Wagner, a lefty, pounded three pitches into the right field stands. My heart dropped missing the action. I knew the home run derby was going to continue in left field. Rocky Colavito was coming around the cage to take his at bat.
I mumbled, "Why'd I bring my glove," and slumped in my chair.
Dad looked over at me."Tommy, I did the Indians. Why don't you do the Yankee lineup?"
When I reached for the program, I heard solid bat contact, then Dad took my head and pulled it towards his chest hard.
I turned and saw a broken slat on the top of my chair. Colavito had sliced a foul that split my wooden seat. Dad and I stared at it forever, then I began looking for the piece of wood that broke off, a valuable souvenir, Dad grabbed me, picked up our things and we headed out to the right field box seats.
All future batting practices were viewed in the outfield or the bleachers. Colavito already a secret Non-Yankee hero of mine ~ he hit four homers in a game in 1959 and looked like my Dad ~ became my favorite all time non-Yankee player.
Yankees won 15-5, Stottlemyre pitched well & Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone hit homers

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ride Your Bike

I have an event today, no bike riding, but here are some shots from yesterday and a few weeks ago on the bike. Central Park, Coney, Hudson River, south and north, East Village and the Brooklyn Bridge Beach, you can catch the beach at low tide. Ride your bike, see the City.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mystical City

The City is mystical on holiday weekends. Got to get out of here people leave and all your favorite places are accessible and terrific stuff pops up everywhere. Most folks are on their best behavior, I got itchy and moved around to see what's going on.

My favorite motion and food things in no particular order:

Water after running
Walking up West Broadway to Washington Square Park, through the arch and on up Fifth Avenue
Tunes with running
Weights at gym
Looking up at buildings for things I've missed
Cold beer, only, after I earned it
Reading the newspapers on a stoop in the morning
Bike riding with tunes
Taking my shoes and socks off on the East River Drive
Hellman's Mayo
Sitting on a bench on Hudson Street and watching the river flow

Well, it's too early, but if I wanted to, I earned cold beer today. I biked to Washington Bridge, down to the Battery and up the Lower East Side along the water.
It was low tide at the Brooklyn Bridge and a three block long beach appeared. I locked the bike, climbed down, and went in the East River up to my thighs. First time ever. Been in the Hudson, but never east side. Kind of Dead End Kids feeling, warm in the stomach, you know?

After doing the Brooklyn Bridge Beach, I headed up to 10th Street between 1st & 2nd Avenues for a fair. My friends, Peter Carlaftes & Kat Georges performed "Greenagers in Love." They were hysterical.
Last Tuesday, I biked out to Coney Island, and discovered eager beach balls dying to get in the water. Soon...