Here is a rich story written by my friend, Denny Ferrado. It's about old Yorkville's village drums aka Moms' eyes, ears & voices.
Yorkville, Just Another Small Town
by Dennis John Ferado
In 1907 Enrico Caruso recorded VESTI LA GIUBBA, it went on to become the very first record to sell over a million copies. Hank Williams COLD, COLD HEART was written and sung by him in 1951 and hit big on the Country and Western charts. It was recorded by Tony Bennett in 1952 and it gave Mr. Williams his seventh million seller. THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE by Kay Starr stayed in the top ten for nine weeks. On the Rhythm & Blues Charts there was Big Mama Thornton’s HOUND DOG (B. E.--before Elvis) recorded with Johnny Otis’ band, and Little Walter had JUKE. On the Country Charts the Weavers hit with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and Charlie Gracie recorded ROCKIN’ AN’ ROLLIN.’ Watch out, Rock and Roll is on the horizon.
Gary Cooper won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Actor in High Noon, Anthony Quinn won for Best Supporting Actor starring along with Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata. The Best Director Award went to John Ford for The Quiet Man, Shirley Booth won for Best Actress starring with Burt Lancaster in William Inge’s, Come Back Little Sheba and Gloria Grahame won for Best Supporting Actress in The Bad and the Beautiful. Went to all the movies that year with my school mates, Jim Jim and I saw Viva Zapata and The Quiet Man twice. Ronnie, Billy C. and I saw High Noon together.
I was born in
New York City on in a Brownstone building that is known as a railroad flat. My parents were superintendents and our rooms ran from our front window on Manhattan Island 87th Street through the entire building to a backyard which my mom had turned into a beautiful garden. We lived at 411 East 87th Street on the Upper East Side in a section called Yorkville and I had my first cry on our kitchen table. In 1942 a riot of kids were being born all around the city and placed on kitchen tables for the neighbors to ogle.
Our front room window looked out on
’s school and its Church alongside it. Ours was the closest building on the block to the main entrance of the school: roughly 15 grown-up steps in a straight line across Saint Joseph 87th Street. I still have my graduation certificate from Kindergarten 1947.
I am still in touch with a few of those classmates. Every year we played basketball for
's School, some of us even stayed together through high school. We all lived within two blocks of the school and played in the streets after school was out. We played all the street games, kick-the-can, stickball, stoop ball, ring-a-levio, roller hockey, street-wrestling, hot beans, etc., etc. We played together on a baseball team, a soft ball team and a football team. We rode bikes, shot paper clips at one another, blew uncooked peas through straws at the girls, had raw egg fights, tortured store owners, sneaked into movie houses, got kicked out of movie houses, dropped water balloons from rooftops at other kids and threw them at passing Westbound 86th Street Crosstown buses with open windows, (as they were in mid-turn going from York Avenue into 86th Street) then flew like bats towards 87th Street. In school we shot water guns with ink in them at one another while in our white uniform shirts, we built skateboard boxes out of old wooden crates and rode them down hills and crashed them into one another. We tossed each other off concrete stoops playing king-of-the-mountain--I achieved a fractured elbow from that game. Saint Joseph
We were a large crowd, maybe 15 of us on this particular day. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon sometime in late July or early August when we decided to play Johnny-on-the-pony against the Sanitation Department’s office building wall. After the game most of the guys walked home banged up and bruised. Ronnie, Jay, Paddy, Jim Jim,Tommy and I stayed and played a couple of games of Swift ball for another hour or so.
When we finished we sat down against the school’s wall, exhausted, underneath our 3’ x 3’ square box drawn with chalk on the wall which we also used as a catcher when the batter got up to hit. If the batter missed the ball it came right back to the pitcher. This area on the wall constituted the strike zone and faced north opposite and Sanitation building directly across
87th Street. The pitcher would stand in the middle of the street and the ball was hit back at him. We were just sitting there minding our own and relaxing, looking across the street at the two-storied office building with its flagpole extending up another twenty feet or so into the sky. Paddy stood and announced:
“I’m gonna climb up the side of the Sanitation building onto the roof and right on up that flagpole to the top of it. Does anyone want to come?” Ronnie said:
“You’re nuts! Jim Jim said:
“I’m out. That pole’s too thin to hold me.” I added,
“What for? He answered:
“There’s nothing else to do.” Before we knew it, Paddy, was half way up the side of the Sanitation building and continued up to the roof. From the roof he started to wave and shout: “Come on you guys, the view is great. And then he shimmied straight up the flagpole to the top of it. He touched the tip of the pole and then slid back down to the roof and shouted down to us: “You should see all the Spauldeens. Ronnie said:
“Lets go up,” Jim Jim jumped up and said:
“What the hell.” We all climbed up the side of the Sanitation building and we found a treasure-trove of pink-rubber balls. They had been collecting for years from all the foul balls by the different age groups playing ball on
87th Street and from the kids in ’s School during our recess hour of organized mayhem. During lunch period when school is in session, Saint Joseph 87th Street becomes a play street. There was also a cracked baseball bat up there, a dead football, a swollen softball and an old pair of sneakers.
Although there would never be another summer to match the innocence of this summer, I thought: I was really lucky. How could a guy ever have a better bunch of friends, as crazy as half of them are, they’re the best. Maybe Paddy had to scratch some kind of itch that day by climbing to the top of the flagpole, I’ll never know. I was happy I never had to deal with that particular itch.
We were a close bunch all through the 1950’s into the mid 1960’s. When we were in the fifth grade we began spending our lunch periods in the back of hallways along
1st Avenue smoking cigarettes. I do not condone smoking, it’s a terrible, disgusting, dirty habit and many lives from my parents and from my generation have been lost due to tobacco. No one should ever start smoking. However, back then people were ignorant to the dangers involved and everybody smoked. Doctors, on TV commercials, recommended smoking to help people relax. It was a sign of one growing up, or so we thought, maturing; and we just couldn’t wait to mature. Between 88th Street and 89th Street on the east side of 1st Avenue, close to the butcher shop, there was Mark’s candy store. Mark wore a fedora hat and had a permanent short cigarette butt wedged into the left corner of his mouth--the eye above showed a constant squint from the smoke. He habitually wore a flannel shirt, under a buttoned-up gray cardigan sweater (winter and summer) along with his ever present change apron over that. His apron had numerous pockets in it along the front for every size coin that had ever been minted. Sometimes in the evenings I’d see Ronnie there waiting for the papers to arrive to take home to his parents just like me. We’d hang out and chat until both the Daily News and the New York Mirror trucks arrived. Mark was short and chunky and sold loosie cigarettes, three for a nickel, seven for a dime. That’s where we got our Lucky Strikes.
Between 87th and 88th Streets on the East side of
1st Avenue we frequented the hallways between Hugh's’ Bar on the corner of 88th St. and Anna Marie’s Pizza Parlor on 87th Street. Paddy, Jim, Ronnie, Tommy and myself had just lighted up two of our 7 cigarettes in the back of one of the hallways between Glaser’s bakery and Weinstein’s Hardware store and began to pass them around between us. Just then a lady came into the building with a baby in a carriage and two little ones tagging along, the older one was a little girl of about six and a boy about the age of three. The girl was trying to stop the boy from crying because he wanted a mello-roll ice cream and did not want to go upstairs to their apartment until he got one. The girl kept repeating the words, first gently:
“Hush Billy,” then sternly, “HUSH BILLY.” She positioned herself behind Billy and began to nudge him along with her body and her knees while little Billy dug his heels into the floor. We all jumped to attention when we heard them enter the hall and quickly crushed out the evidence while trying to wave the smoke away. However, the smoke hung low and heavy and we were drenched in guilt, caught in the act. It was a vain attempt to cover up our deed since the place stank from cigarette smoke. We all grabbed a hunk of carriage, as the baby slept, and carried it up the one flight. We knew the lady by sight and she knew us. She never said a word after we helped her, she simply opened her door and entered her apartment while her daughter gently dragged little Billy by the ankles along the floor, over the door sash and out of sight.
We returned to the bottom of the steps. Since our first attempt failed we passed around the five remaining cigarettes--a whole one each--because none of us could go home with any for fear of it being ferreted out by an inquisitive parent. We spread out, some of us stood, others sat around on the hallway steps and talked about the most recent tortures we had to endure from Father Heide. Over that weekend fourteen windows had been broken in Saint Joseph’s School which we had been accused of because the school staff knew we were the crowd who hung around 87th Street on the weekends.
To make matters worse those of us called to the Principle’s Office actually had nothing to do with the vandalism and at a latter date the truth surfaced and we were exonerated. So what! we all figured, we had already been accused and beaten on our bare asses by Father Heide with his Little Oscar. For the time being we had to endure. When we were nearly finished smoking the hallway looked like a smoke screen had just been put down. Straightaway the silence was splintered by the siren like sound of the downstairs doorbell squealing. We nearly jumped out of our skins. Someone entered the front hallway and the clap of slippered-footsteps came padding toward us. Outside the glass doors the sun shone brightly and we could only see a silhouette briskly making its way through the long smoky hallway. It was a familiar looking figure, I said to myself. The way it moved, lightly, yet determinedly. Then it hit me and the word just blurted from my mouth:
“MOM!” Ten Arms flailed in anguish trying to dispel the thick fog of smoke as we scurried, spun in circles, collided into one another. In the angst of the moment Paddy actually swallowed what remained of his cigarette and began to cough and gag. Mom was sharp, it was extremely difficult to fool her. She attended
’s with several of my friends’ parents and grew up on the same streets we were growing up on. Mom knew the first Mr. Glaser back in the early 1920’s, she knew Sam the fish man, all the store owners knew the hallways, the backyards and she knew everyone and everyone knew her. Saint Joseph
We dashed towards the stairs, the roof as our goal. In our adolescent disarray we tripped and stumbled and could barely make it past the first couple of steps where we got tangled in gridlock, pulling at one another from behind when we heard my Mother shout:
“Freeze!” We did. “I’m not going to do anything,” she said. As we were unknotting ourselves, Ronnie whispered to me:
“She’s tricky, Den.” Jim said:
“Come on, I believe her,” and cheerily said: “Hi ya moms,” and began to strut out. Paddy while choking and turning fire-engine-red began to spit out the words:
“I don’t, (cough) I don’t know (cough, cough)..., I don’t know about this.” Tommy followed Jim and as they were passing mom she grabbed each of them by their right hands and smelt their fingers. She looked into Jim’s eyes and softly mumbled:
“Don’t give me that ‘Hi ya mom stuff, I’ll give you one upside your head. This is no joke, you’re a bunch of dummies.” Jim hung his head as he gingerly moved past her. Mom sniffed Ronnie’s and Paddy’s fingers as they slithered by. Smelling the fingers for tobacco smoke was her proof that we had been smoking. Two weeks later she informed me that while she considered the smoke in the air as circumstantial evidence (we could somehow lie about that) the stench on our fingers was hard factual evidence--the smellee’s hand, she concluded, had definitely held a cigarette--this could not be fabricated away.
Alone in the smoky hallway with mom my knees began to touch. Once my friends were clear she waited for me but I was slow in moving because I didn’t know what to expect. Mom threatened but rarely did she resort to violence. She would even the score some other way which usually had a longer lasting effect. But mom knew just how to frighten the hell out of us by the sheer act of intimidation. She had a winter coat on (It was late November) with big wide sleeves, her arms were folded and she had her hands up either side of the opposite sleeve. She took her hands from her coat sleeves and opened her palms to show me that she was unarmed. Stepping lightly I began to wiggled by her when in one swift motion, she dropped her right arm straight down toward the floor, a wire hanger slid down and into her hand and the hand automatically shot high above her head (prequel to the movie Psycho) with the wire hanger.
With that sudden movement an all consuming fear ran through me. I bolted toward the front of the hall where the other four were out in the vestibule, faces pressed against the square glass in the door trying to see what was going on inside. But they did not see me coming, until I was at the door. They were too slow in moving as I yanked the hallway door open and jumped down the one step into the tiny 4’ x 4‘ vestibule and like dominoes we all crumbled to the floor. Now we were clambering, stuck in the vestibule and not enough room to open the outside door which opened inward. All 5 of us stuck in that little space while mom stood in the hallway with her face against the glass, grinning at us. All we could think about as we tore at one another to get out of that vestibule was that any second we were about to hear and feel the hiss and the kiss of a wire hanger. However, mom was too weak from laughter to even raise her weapon now. What she wanted to do was let us know that we couldn’t put anything past her and secondly and most importantly to put a real good scare into us--which she had, most emphatically, achieved.
I found out later that the mother of the lady with the carriage and the three children played bingo with a lady who knew my aunt, my mother’s sister, Nora, who was also a part of the great Bingo society at
’s. A few phone calls were made. When the lady with the three children got into her apartment she told her mother (who lived with her) about us. Her mother called her friend who played bingo with my aunt Nora, the bingo lady called Aunt Nora who in turn called my mother. My mother armed herself, sprinted around the corner in her slippers, and caught us red-handed. All this took place within a time frame of about twenty minutes during our lunch period. I always thought things like this only happened in small towns where everyone knows everyone else. Saint Joseph
I got to thinking, I live in a big city with millions of people. Sometimes I can walk for miles, passing fleeting faces by the thousands, and no one will know my name. But in this little place in a corner of an overflowing megalopolis everyone, at one time, did know my name and everyone did know everyone else. Yorkville, just another small town.
Below: Denny Ferado's 400 block on 87th St ~ St. Joe across street @ 2011