Friday, January 28, 2011

"How's Your Body Today?"

"How's your body today?" my friend, Jimmy, asked me on the phone. We have a recurring conversation on aches, pains & music. Jimmy's question drifted me back.

I usually have a song in my head. All the time. If you start talking to me your words have to navigate through that song to hit the listening room in my brain. I'm also 100 percent lefty.

I don't mean Clifford Odets lefty, I mean my right arm and right leg feel detached from the rest of my body. Two younger brothers torturing Mom in the street lagging behind touching everything they're not suppose to, making each trip outside the house a disaster. My left and right side work together like a kindergarten orchestra at it's first practice.

My leftyness caused trips to Lenox Hill Emergency Room due to massive clumsyness (I was on a first name basis with the ER doctors there). Leftyness crushed me at basketball, weakened my abilities at other sports. In basketball, I could drive left, score a quick 8 points off you, then you would figure out I couldn't dribble with my right hand or drive right. You'd readjust your defense and take me out of the game.

As a running back in football, all I wanted to do was sweep left or go off tackle. Every time I played left back and they called a right sweep giving me the ball I'd start telling myself what to do mechanically but my right leg and right arm would be playing cards and ignore my call and my left side would carry the brunt of the play. In hardball, I caught line drives with my bare left hand for no apparent reason while my right hand with the glove on was looking for twigs in the dirt.

In September 1968, I entered LaSalle Academy high school on 2nd Street in the East Village. That first semester we took gym class with Mr. Thompson. He sat up a devious series of exercises to scout talent for LaSalle's Track & Field team. At that time, LaSalle was a dominant Track & Field team setting national records at the Penn Relays. Freshman gym class was one long painful tryout (that's a lie, there was lots of fun in between the fear).

We threw the put, did long jumps and high jumps, dashes, climbed the rope, worked the peg board, and some were chosen to try the javelin and the pole vault (wisely, Mr. Thompson selectively pruned talent for those two events).

Prior to my first gym class, thoughtlessly signed up for the "I can't believe I'm eating this" school lunch program, I was on my first lunch line in the hall outside the gym. As the line moved forward I noticed two strips of white adhesive tape on the marble floor. There was a five foot break between the strips and it was obvious that you were keeping a lane clear. But for what? My turn to stand at the edge of the first strip, and I'm thinking what the hell is the tape for? A spear rushes pass my head, I feel the breeze. Following the spear is a six-foot senior, I realize the spear is a pole, and indoor pole vaulting practice is in full swing. Our gym was short, the track guys needed this lane. The pole vaulter started his run on the 2nd Street wall of the building in the back of the lunch room, building speed, running pass the adhesive tape lane in the hall aiming for the 14 ft bar in the gym.

Back to my leftyness. It was time for Thompson to put my Frosh 406 class through a high jump lesson a.k.a. try out. He showed us how to approach the bar and arrange our body and legs to push and jump over. The bar was only four feet high and the gym floor under the bar was covered with cushy red foam mats to break your fall. I could do this, I thought. All I needed was to watch the guys in front of me, carefully. I went to the back of the line, I watched the leg action on 37 guys and made mental notes. Unfortunately, the last four guys were rightys and by this point I was pretty excited and wasted no time giving direction to my right leg and right arm. The last guy, Joe Menesick, pushed off on his right leg and went over gracefully clearing the bar towards the cushions set up on the right side. I'll do what Joe did, and did. Up to a point. Then my left leg took over and I went left, the opposite way from the cushions towards the second row of the built in bleachers where I crumbled into a heap. No cushions in the bleachers. Hurt, but not hurt, I stayed there a while and took the laughter in. The song in my head was "Classical Gas," by Mason Williams.


Thank you Patrick "Cool Pat" Cullinan, my LaSalle Geometry teacher, for letting me use your terrific photos. All pictures are Pat's except the two new shots of the bleachers I took last year before LaSalle left 2nd Street building.

Below, that's me playing Tarzan in LaSalle's gym in 1968. Joe Menesick is right under me to my left. Mr Dewitt Thompson cheerfully holds the kite string we are jumping over.










































Wednesday, January 26, 2011

War of the Tomatoes

1953, right after my parents first wedding anniversary:

Up in the York Avenue apartment, my half Italian father who thought he was 100 percent Italian, accidentally repeated these words to my Aunt Alice within earshot of his Italian mother. "Patty's sauce is better than Mom's."

After watching her mother-in-law's huffing reaction to this announcement, my 100 percent Irish mother who thought she was Italian was pleased as punch.

This kicked off a 46 year "War of the Tomatoes." Patty Pryor and Ann Pryor Rode dug trenches ~ and it wasn't just tomatoes.






Monday, January 24, 2011

Knock On Wood





The memory swelled up. Mom, Dad, Rory, 7, me, 9, sitting in our 83rd Street living room watching Mighty Joe Young on the The Million Dollar Movie on TV. Same movie, Monday to Friday, after dinner on WOR Channel 9. It was our third viewing that week. Mom was reading a Reader’s Digest Abridged Book and Dad was polishing his dress shoes with a power drill. He bought a buffer attachment specifically for this use. It sounded like Willie Sutton working a bank safe. This thrilled Mom. Dad’s shoes were lined up soldiers getting ready for inspection. Rory and I didn’t care about the noise ~ we had memorized the movie’s dialogue the night before.

In 1966, Dad bought his first small saw and lathe and worked on wood. He set them up near the fire escape window as if this would help. Now the noise, ink, lead, clay, and show polish was complimented with sawdust. I fully expected Mom to murder Dad and easily sway the jury and get off.

After her swift arrest and a speedy start to her trial, Mom would bring the jury to our Yorkville apartment and ask Rory to turn on the Victrola all the way, she’d tell me to start the power drill buffer and use lots of brown shoe polish on three pairs of shoes, then Mom would flip on the saw and lathe and grab a few pieces of wood and get at it. With the music blasting, the buffer drilling, the saw and lathe humming away, the jury would all shake their heads slowly side to side as they passed Mom on the way out of our small junior four apartment. With the sawdust flying, they’d squeeze her shoulder and give her short hugs.

Dad’s work was exquisite.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_76cFrvTFVc&feature=related







































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Mark your calendars: I have Storytelling Shows scheduled for Cornelia Street Cafe @ April 12th & June 14th.

Both shows are on Tuesday @ 6pm.

Tales from the stoop, in story & song. The Cafe is easy to get to, I promise you a wonderful time.

http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com/contact.html

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Friday, January 21, 2011

A Royal Flush

Yesterday, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was cold and beautiful. On Gold Street, I recorded three stories in a studio. Nine of my published stories are being professionally engineered and will be available for you to listen on the Internet in late February through a link on this blog. Back in Manhattan, I headed for the Surrogate Courthouse on Chambers Street. On the first floor of this splendid building is the New York City Library and it's open to the public. They have every book you can imagine on the city, old maps and land books.

I love 31 Chambers Street, I worked there for the Comptroller's Office while I was in Hunter College in the mid 1970s. There was no security, me and a bunch of Pace accounting majors ran the building. Our job involved many visits to the spooky basement where every voucher for every check cut by the city was stored. My job was to reconcile vouchers to checks right after President Ford told the city to "Drop Dead," per the New York Daily News (He never used those words, no surprise). It was so dark in the basement we bumped into each other, and played wicked games of hide and seek.

When it was time to go the bathroom I used the Judges private chambers bathrooms on the sixth floor, quite easy to sneak in. Fixtures were brass, wood paneling to kill for, enough room in each stall for a card game. They were thrones. Each stall had a pull chain with the water box over the toilet bowl. Every time I yanked that chain it was a royal flush.

Going to the bathroom at home was never the same.





















Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yorkville in 1921


Here are two sections of the 1921 Atlas of Manhattan.

Top map covers 86th Street from 2nd Avenue to Lexington Avenue. Bottom map is 85th to 91st Street between east side of York Avenue and the river. See 86th Street trolley tracks down to a quay at the water. Passengers could hop a ferry to Astoria. On the map, 86th Street had old names in script, Hellgate Road & Ferry Road.

You should be able to click on each and increase size of the map significantly so you can read and identify every building. Some shops and theatres are named and will bring back memories for many. Old buildings long gone have size (number of stories) and their address where they sat before demolition.

Earlier today, I spent some time in the New York City Library at 31 Chambers Street, near City Hall.

I'll put up some pictures later of that gorgeous building also known as the Surrogate Courthouse.




Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pet Chicken Down In Chinatown


Dad nailed a typing test early in his Navy career (always good with his hands) and directly became a storekeeper. This led to "The Life of Reilly," for Dad in the Navy and later in the Merchant Marines (Storekeepers control lots of goodies). After the service, Dad sold space on ships for a few of the big shipping lines along lower Broadway and Battery Place. At the time(1950s & 1960s), there was more product coming in and out of New York then there was space on all the ships. For a long time "The Life of Reilly," continued for Dad in civilian life and he made art in his free time (it surrounds me).

When corruption chased most shipping lines out of New York along with the jobs, Dad bought a town car and got into the livery business like his Dad and his grandfather. His father was a hack driver, and his grandpa was a hostler, caring for horses.

When Dad found the internet his typing skills shook off their cobwebs. I'd get a couple of requests a week to print something up for him. Dad loved quirky stories. Here is one from 2000, two years before he died.










Monday, January 17, 2011

Passing Through Sunnyside

Rode the # 7 subway line through LIC, Sunnyside & Woodside along the El yesterday on my way to Elmhurst to visit Aunt Barbie Pins.

Took some pictures, I'll add more later. Here's an old Elmhurst tale.

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I was talking with a friend about how much I love Ray Davies and the Kinks music. This reminded me of a frigid November Saturday afternoon in 1965 when I was eleven.
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For some reason, I was staying over my Aunt Barbara's apartment in Elmhurst.
I liked to wander around the neighborhood by myself, so I was window shopping along Roosevelt Avenue under the El, breezed past Jackson Avenue. I had a buck, which meant today I would buy one 45 single, and it better be a good one. When I was eleven, no decision carried as much weight and thought as buying a record. There was a small music store near the Jackson movie house. I tired out the clerk looking over the new releases and finally decided on "Till the End of the Day," by the Kinks, because I heard "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" the flip side once and liked it fine. It was a unexpected gift buying a single when the B side was a good song too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnB3CHwPipU
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I ran a half mile to Barbara's apartment on Macnish Street, not breathing, said hi, and went straight to the Victrola. Saw something disturbing.
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"Barbara, why is the record player unplugged?"
"It's broke.'
"Huh?"
OK now I was in hell. New music with no means of playing it. I dropped into a chair. Barbara saw the shape I was in and made a suggestion.
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"Tommy, Joannie's not home, but why don't you go try Betty?"
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Barbara, my Aunt Joan, and their friend Betty Mulhern, all lived in the building. Betty Mulhern was Emma Peel, Barbara Feldon and Serena, Samantha's evil cousin all rolled into one. If you didn't like brunettes, and saw Betty, you'd like brunettes. She danced every new dance, and her wild hair flew. She wore tight shorts on long legs, she wore clam diggers, she painted her pretty toes. Her eyes sparkled, her nose twitched. I couldn't make eye contact with her without my belly feeling funny.
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I went down the hall and knocked on Betty's door. Music was playing.
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"Hey Tommy, what's up?"
"Hmmm, I have a new record, Barbara's player is broken. Can I play it on yours?"
"Sure, come in."
I put it on. Betty was doing the dishes, and she started to sway her hips. All I could do was watch her move back and forth, back and forth.
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I played both sides five times. Would have made it six, if Barbara didn't come in to retrieve me.