Run To The Store For Me, Honey
by Dennis Ferado
September 26, 1826-- The New York Evening Post wrote of Yorkville village:
The sailors and passengers that worked on and used the East River for their livelihood or their pleasure would bend their elbows, in comradely fashion, quenching their thirst at Hazzard House. This tavern was located at 84th Street and Third Avenue. The Danbury Post coach line also made a stop at Hazzard House. Once Third Avenue had been paved races were organized along the wide street and in the winter sleighing parties were held. With the arrival of these fun-loving people taverns began popping up along the avenue and did a spectacular business serving food and drink. Hazzard House was the most popular of these taverns and its immediate surroundings constituted the village center of Yorkville where people and things began to spread out from, and into, the surrounding areas. Growing up in the Yorkville village of 1826 must have been a demanding but intoxicating life for a kid.
Growing up in the Yorkville in 1952 could also be quite demanding and intoxicating for a kid. To begin with you had to be fleet of foot and you had to learn how to fight, just in case your feet were not so fleet. There were kids in every block and on every street corner from the East River on over to Lexington Avenue. And they were waiting there--just for YOU!
Like many youngsters when my parents spoke to me, if I was lucky, I might pick up ten percent of what they were so despairingly trying to seed into the soggy soil of my mind. How could I possibly pay attention when my attention was slave to at least a dozen other more pressing mysteries--all of the utmost urgency and requiring my immediate attention. Nevertheless, if I caught the two following words in the same sentence: ‘honey’ and ‘store‘when my mother was speaking to me, I knew I was in jeopardy. Big trouble! My chances of making it into my teenage years hinged on the location of the store. At the time we were living at 408 East 88th Street so I never minded Weiss‘Deli because it was just a button hook away. Forty yards to First Avenue and a sharp left past Hughes’ bar on the corner. No streets or avenues to cross. Still, there could be a problem hovering, lurking, about to pounce. You never knew when or where complications might arise, descend and blanket you like a fisherman’s net.
In Yorkville when a ten-year-old boy ventured too far from the stoop of his own apartment building, his ego and self-esteem tumbled into a dark labyrinth of doubt and anxiety. His entire future depended on his instinct for survival and, most importantly, on pure speed. On his way to a store he could pass several separate groups of teenagers. It was a test to equal any one of the twelve Labors of Hercules. It took more than timing, speed, ingenuity and luck; it took direct intervention from above. Those terrifying words: “Run to the store for me, honey, and pick up...”
This usually took place around dusk of nearly every evening just before dinner--mom either needed milk, potatoes, butter, bread or some other staple. She would give me a dollar and I’d go to Weiss’ and get four quarts of milk and return--If I didn’t get waylaid--with four cents change. Milk was twenty-four cents a quart and a loaf of bread was sixteen cents. I knew I might return soaking wet from a water balloon attack or come back with swollen, stinging red welts all over my upper body and peas in my hair from ‘the pea-shooters.‘ I could be cut to pieces crossing the front lines of two groups of kids on opposite sides of 88th Street having a paper-clip-fight. Paper clips shot from rubber bands move at blinding speeds and can do some awful damage. A savage game, at best.
One very cold winter day, during our lunch/recreation period on 87th Street outside Saint Joseph’s School I saw a boy lose the lower piece of an earlobe after being hit there with a paper clip. The piece of ear flew off like a broken chunk of ice, he felt no pain, didn’t even bleed. Of the incident, Paddy who was standing next to me, whispered: “It was no good to him anyway. That lobe was all stretched out from being twisted by the nuns.”
I could get mugged by a couple of twelve-year-olds and return without the groceries or my mother’s money. And would she believe me? She looked at me a bit strange after it happened the second time. So everywhere I’d go, I’d run; with curled-lip, sneering face, angry eyes and hands clenched so tightly into fists that my knuckles burned and would turn white from going bloodless. My aim being ‘the enemy’ would see a crazy guy, ready for anything and they might think twice before trying to “bully” me or something worse.
Around the age of ten or so many Yorkville boys, born anytime up to the late 1960‘s developed what some referred to as ‘The Yorkville Bounce.’ It’s was a sort of psychological defense mechanism that unknowingly became part of our make-up and warned others to beware. Stay back!
Years later (after not seeing someone for about ten-years) I was J walking at Varick and Canal Streets when I heard someone calling my name. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere. Finally, I looked up I saw a window washer waving to me from a scaffold way up high. I waited for the caller to come down and he told me that he had recognized my walk. It was, Neely Olsen, an old friend. He said he spotted that “Yorkville Bounce.”
The worst scenario possible was that I could get ‘pantsed’ (pantsing was very popular for those under twelve). If that were to happen I would lose everything. They would take your pants off and one guy would shimmy up the nearest lamppost as high as he could and then toss them over the top. After that, they would all run away and you’d be left there alone. There you’d be in your undershorts trying to fathom a way to get your pants back and wretchedly needing someone’s help. Luckily, pantsing usually took place during the summer months. Although I’d seen it happen once on a cold night in November. I hid behind a car with a head of lettuce and a pound of crushed tomatoes in my arms, oozing through the brown paper bag, until they left the poor guy standing there shaking. Mercifully, through sheer stealth, I had never been a recipient of such cruelty. I didn’t know the poor guy and had never seen him before. It happened outside our house and I went in and told my dad. Pop came out with an extension ladder (we were superintendents) and retrieved the pants for the shivering victim. Five years after this incident I was with a friend in Carl Schurz Park, sitting on a bench behind the Mayor’s Mansion staring at the river, when a gang of about ten kids approached us. They were out searching for someone for some unexplained reason. One of them had a gun and wanted to shoot me in the face and I believed him. This kid stepped out of the crowd and spoke softly to the one with the gun. I overheard one sentence: “He’s okay, I know him.” As they started to walk away I recognized him, it was the kid who had been pantsed the night I crushed my mother’s tomatoes. All I knew of him was that he lived somewhere in the upper nineties.
One day mom sent me to Tony Moresco’s Fruit & Vegetable market for a 35 cent, five-pound bag of potatoes for dinner and I met a friend on my way to the store. We started talking and wound up down in Carl Schurz Park. My concern for the potatoes swiftly consigned to oblivion while we strolled through the park chatting away. As we approached and were about to pass under the tunnel at 87th Street we heard:“HEY!”
We looked up and standing on the wall of the tunnel’s bridge, fifteen-feet above our heads were 6 teenagers. All of them had jagged, golf-ball to baseball sized rocks in both of their hands. I did a bit of math and came to the understanding that we could die right there and then. We were about eight feet from the tunnel realizing they could clobber us before we would gain its shelter. While speaking to us their leader, in a threatening way, continued to toss a rock into the air and catch it with the same hand. He said if we moved an inch they would start flinging the rocks down at us. His five cohorts stood poised, arms cocked like Greek statues, ready to launch. They told us to stand still and look down at the ground and not up at them. We did and they proceeded to pee down on us. We were so shocked we couldn’t move a muscle but if we had they would have beaned us with those rocks. I guess it was easier for a ten-year-old just getting pissed on and arriving home embarrassed and smelling like a toilet than getting stoned to death--I’d heard about that stuff in the Bible. My friend and I swore to each other that we’d remember these guys and we certainly did. Although we never saw them again.
I was ashamed to tell my parents but what could I say? I stank! They knew what I was soaked in. When my overprotective brother heard the story he fell out of his chair and rolled around on our kitchen linoleum floor in a fit of rabid hysterics. My mother was very cool about this and didn’t say much. Afterwards when she got me alone she interrogated me for any information I could give her about the bullies. Where did they come from, did I know any of their last names, could I recognize any one of them if I saw them again? She wanted to go out on the street with her sister (my aunt Nora) along with me to point them out to her. That was an offer I vehemently refused. I could not imagine going out with my mother to hunt down some kids that peed on me. I’d be the joke of the neighborhood and besides Mom and aunt Nora might have murdered one of those kids. I remembered what they had done to the slimy Cub Scout Master; chased him up the street with mop and broom. My father let out a soft sigh and said:
“Get in the bathroom and hose down that body, boy.”
Mom added:” Hurry up before your dinner gets cold. You’re so late I had to make rice instead.”
There was more steam coming from my mother’s ears than the rice she was steaming but she held back. I showered with my dad’s make-shift shower--a cut down garden hose with one end clamped onto the tub’s nozzle with a sprinkler head attached to the other end--and was drying off when mom spoke to me through the bathroom door, “As soon as you come out of the shower and your brother gets up off the floor, we’ll have dinner.” I came out and joined them at the table, sitting down between my grinning brother and my very concerned little sister when my mother said: “Eat.” My father added a touch of wisdom:
“Listen Johnny,” (dad called me ‘Johnny’--it’s either our middle name--or ‘son’ when he waxed profound) “I promise you you’re going to meet some people in this life who will treat you as if you were their brother.” I looked over at my brother, George, and thought, I HOPE NOT! (I have to add that my brother made an offer to help, I thanked him and answered NO!) “They’ll do things for you,” dad continued, “that you would never have imagined and you’ll wonder why? Just like you’re wondering why these guys did what they did to you today. It’s all part of the great mystery of life, son. A mystery that we will never fully understand. Now, that’s enough talking at the table. Eat your dinner.” Then, as an afterthought my mother asked: “Oh, Dennis. Did you ever pick up the potatoes?” I looked at her through dumfounded eyes and asked: