Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gang Way!

You know you’re old, when you remember being stuck inside a discarded locked refrigerator.

The thrown out fridge with a door and functional handle was on the sidewalk in front of the McNamara house on 83rd Street in 1963. We wanted to see how many kids could get in there and still lock it. After we took the metal trays out, four guys did fit inside when everyone pulled their stomachs in. You only played this game with close friends. Everyone understood this was fun only if the door reopened quickly.

We knew that a few years back on 80th Street, kids were locked in a fridge and when the guys on the outside tried to open it, the door handle broke off and the kids were trapped (Parents like to repeat horror stories). A Con Ed worker was watching the action from his hole in the street. He grabbed a sledge hammer and gave the side of the refrigerator a few good whacks. The door popped open, the kids got out but spent the rest of the day with the shakes.

Old refrigerators provided hours of pleasure, but new ones did too, or at least the boxes they came in did. The fridge box was huge, taller than any kid and made of sturdy heavy-duty cardboard. There were three games.

When the box was intact, a guy would get in and the guys on the outside would rattle the box and knock it over a few times, then each guy would take a turn getting in and slammed around. It was preferable not to go last, since you probably pissed someone off for playing too rough and they were looking to get even. This game would eventually knock out the bottom of the box.

When the bottom fell out, the box became a tank. We turned it on its side, and as many kids as possible would crawl in it and we’d begin to roll down the street, screaming, “Gang way! Gang way! Coming Through!” No one could see what was in front of them. Most of the time, people cleared the sidewalk and gave us room. We rolled over my brother, Rory, once, but he had on double winter clothes and hardly felt a thing.

After a few trips up and down the block the tank would blow a gasket and tear. We no longer had a cylinder, just a long wide strip of cardboard that was perfect for a sliding pond down the longer stoops in the neighborhood.

The closest tall stoops were on the east side of York Avenue between 85th Street & 86th Street. We dragged the box over to one of those babies and played until the box blew its last breath.

"Gang Way!"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

City Stories: Stoops to Nuts ~ A Storytelling Show on April 12th @ 6pm

Walking downtown to see Francesca Rizzo in "Dames Like Her," her hilarious solo show at Cornelia Street Cafe (Ms. Rizzo owned the sold out crowd. The woman next to me laughed so hard she dumped a glass of red wine on my pants), I passed a bus load of out of towners near the UN. They were in from Philly, dressed light. Being chilly, I lent my coat to a few. Ran into Betty and Chloe who took a picture with Fred Frump, one of the visitors.

Barbara Aliprantis, has curated a terrific storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe for 14 straight years every month on the second Tuesday. Barbara is taking a sabbatical and I'm holding the candle until she returns.

My first "City Stories; Stoops to Nuts," storytelling show is Tuesday, April 12th @ 6pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe, with storytellers & songsmiths: Michele Carlo, Claudia Chopek, D.Indalecio Guzman, Amanda Thorpe, Adam Wade, Ward White. Please come down, I promise you a wonderful time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

400 Block East 85th Street ~ Now & Then

My friend, Nancy Kidney shared two pictures with me of the 400 block of East 85th Street taken in August 1942. It was a service flag dedication and mostly women and children gathered for the pictures. As you can see, the frontage of 424 is nearly the same minus the fences & gates in the now shot. Up the block on the right is P.S. 77, grammar school replaced by the Tri~Faith apartment building in the late 1960s.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Joannie Baloney!

Happy birthday, Joannie Baloney!Joan Heuer, the funniest person I've ever met, was born today in 1935 in East Harlem.

She moved toYorkville with the Ryan family in 1943. Joannie was my godmother and my Mom's middle sister, her younger sister, Barbara is in pictures above alongwith one of Uncle Mommy below at Joannie's daughter, Christine's christening. Also a picture of chubbsy-ubsy Joannie at ConeyIsland in 1945.

Best Joannie story... my Uncle Lennie comes home from the Navy in 1945. Joannie, ten years old, lazes around the house while everyone else goes to work or goes to school. She's alone. She's playing hookey. Joannie takes Lennie dress whites out and puts them on. The pants drag by half a foot, so she rolls them up and pins them. Does the same thing with the arms, but doesn't need much there because Lenny is skinny and Joan ain't. Then she gets my grandfather's ancient fishing pole out, empties a tin of Carnation Evaporated Milk into the sink, takes the top off the can, and shes ready to go. Got the pole and the can for the worms. She gets Lennie's sailor hat, double steps the stoop and jumps onto the street. She's dressed this way not to sneak around , she wants people to see her so she turns up 86th Street off York Avenue and gallivants, pole over her shoulder like a continental soldier, whistling while she strolls.

She makes it up to Horn & Hardarts getting all the attention she expected, when walking right at her with his face down in a newspaper is my grandfather. She don't see him because she's making lots of eye contact with people to her left and right. Joannie collides with her father, they make quick eye contact, Joannie takes off running towards Lexington, my grandfather's in pursuit but his strengths are sitting and complaining. Joan runs around the corner and down to 222 East 85 St and hides out with Uncle Jimmy for a half hour. From the stoop, he gives her the signal the coast is clear and Joan comes out of the hall, kisses Jimmy on the cheek and runs over to the Central Park with a loaf of stale bread in case she don't find any worms. She got back in time to wait for my grandmother to get off the bus after work. In the house, she hid behind her mother in the kitchen while her father circled the two of them, yelling, threatening, pointing but ultimately running out of steam. I miss you Joan.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Sitting Invitation On The River

Bicycling in traffic is terrible. My nerves are shot walking on the sidewalk, biking in the street with Fresh Direct trucks acting like subway mashers makes me loopy. If I have time, I head for the seawall on the Hudson where it all calms down. Thursday, I headed south to get eyeglasses and threw in a haircut for good luck. Saw the new Frank Gehry building up close and my beautiful reward: the sparkling new pier at the foot of North Moore Street. The space is happening. Since it was cold it was nearly deserted, so she and I got acquainted. We became quick friends. Here are the phone booth pictures we took together.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Uncle Mommy!

Today would be Mom's 81st Birthday. I'm celebrating with a glass of milk and washing it down with a black & white cookie.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Mommy! I never had a boring day with Mom in Yorkville.

Chug, Chug, Chug...

...was all I needed to hear. I’d run from any point in the apartment and jump on. Mom’s washing machine was my rocking bronco. Old and cranky, but it still ran. Burping, coughing, and passing gas, its mechanical parts in constant resistance against one another. The machine would lift itself from its usual corner by the old sink in our tiny kitchen beginning its Ouija board dance of death across the linoleum floor. Sick of having to plug it back in when it pulled itself out of the wall socket; Mom finally gave in adding a long extension cord. This cord was my passport to ride the wide open plain from sink to wall, from wall to door across the rolling kitchen floor.

Only one rule was in play. I couldn’t wear my sneakers when driving. Early rides found me firmly planting my sneakered feet on the papered walls to maximize liftoff. This left indelible marks resistant to all Borax cleaning products. Our compromise, I wore socks. So did Mom. We each wore a pair of Dad’s thick hunting socks. Me to cleanly push off as the stage coach perilously neared the wall. I redirected my pony express out of the sage brush back onto the dirt road. Mom’s socks allowed her to slide across the floor in a fluid polishing motion till she saw her house proud smile reflecting off the burnished linoleum.

The kitchen radio played “Our Day Will Come and We’ll Have Everything” by Ruby and the Romantics, then Mom put Mario Lanza on Dad’s 1955 RCA Victrola record player. We’d sing on the top of our lungs locked in tune. The music, the bouncing machine and me, mom’s linoleum cleaning cha-cha, a chaotic orchestra playing for only us two, and Mario and we singing:

“Drink, Drink, Drink,

To eyes that are bright as stars when they’re shining on me.

Drink! Drink! Drink!
To lips that are red and sweet as the fruit on the tree!
Here's a hope that those bright eyes will shine

Lovingly, longingly soon into mine!
May those lips that are red and sweet,
Tonight with joy my own lips meet!
Drink! Drink! Drink! ”

We knew every word.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yankee Popcorn Megaphone

Last night, my friend, Zack Hample, had a book release party at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse on@ 67 East 11th Street. A cool space built with love by Jay Goldberg.

Zack's new book, "The Baseball," is a love letter to and on the sphere that is embedded into American culture. Zack's book is terrific and will satisfy the curiosity of demanding baseball fanatics and average fans who might say, "it's a baseball, what's all the fuss over?" Listen to Zack tell and you'll get it.

I'd never been in the space, Jay's built a sweet little baseball museum. My eyes kept coming back to one thing, the New York Yankee Popcorn Megaphone you see in the two pictures here. I love seeing something I so completely forgotten, that seeing it again I need to move furniture back into that part of brain and the memories flew in.

1965, I was 11, my brother, Rory, 9. Dad had two company tickets to a mid-week game between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels (they changed Los Angeles to Anaheim in September that year). The yellow paper tickets in my hands were for Barber Shipping Lines box seats just a few rows behind the Yankee dugout. I remember thinking, "Jesus, please don't let it rain!" The back of the ticket said no rain check so when Dad had company tickets you got one shot at using them. Dad was overprotective but this day he gave me a speech about watching out for my brother at all times, and he sent us with a buck each up to the 86th Street subway station. Mom protested and Dad said, "Patty, you've got to be kidding, we were on the subway when we were 8!"

Rory couldn't wait to buy food with his dollar, I planned to get a program (brought my own pencil) and a New York Yankee Popcorn/Megaphone. When Rory saw the item filled with popcorn he said he wanted one too, so we both had them. After you ate the popcorn you popped the bottom out and had a megaphone.

Half way into the game Rory got an itchy ass and we started walking from one foul pole to the other, after doing this four or five times, we came back to our seats. I told Rory it was important to properly boo the opposition.

"What do mean?"
I positioned the megaphone by my lips and let out the deepest and longest cow moo adding in the B at the mid point.
Then I told Rory, "You try."
"No, no, no, don't bring the M back. Stick with the ooooo after you bring the B in."

Then we drove the fans around us nuts for the last few innings, and later did same to the other passengers on the #4 subway ride home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Doing the Crime, Well Worth the Time

I spent a lot of time in the halls of St. Stephen's during class. An odd penalty the nuns applied when they had it with you. Sometimes, you went to the hall with no hit, and other times you were banished with a whack to the head on the way out. I was, and remain an excellent ducker.

I liked the hall. It gave me an opportunity to clear my head and plan the rest of my day. Mr. Beller's Neighborhood published a new St. Stephen's story yesterday. What did I do?

The nun caught me, but it was worth it.

Here's the link to the story.