Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jack Loftus, Memorial, This Saturday, Noon @ St. Stephen's

When I was eight in 1962, I had the privilege of hanging out in a tavern alone, no parents, no adults, just me, the owner and a couple of Loftus Tavern regulars from the Yorkville neighborhood.

Jack Loftus would serve me my regular, a Coke with two maraschino cherries. I'd sit with him down the end of the bar and we'd split the newspapers. He'd slip me a dime for the jukebox. Jack loved Johnny Cash, I did too.

I'd do this on a Saturday or Sunday or a miserably hot summer afternoon when I had nothing to do. Jack never turned down a kid with a raffle ticket and never failed to buy a table for a neighborhood dance. Jack attended my baptism, communion and wedding. He was pals with my Italian grandmother. I was one of many local kids that counted Jack as an honorary uncle. Part of the Yorkville neighborhood dies forever with him.

Jack died at 90 years two weeks ago, Recently, I visited Jack in his apartment and we reminisced. He still loved the football Giants. Jack lived over his old establishment which is now called Bailey's Corner. The bar in Bailey's Corner is the same one my Dad danced on the night I was born 57 years ago.

This Saturday, April 30th @ Noon ~ I'm attending a memorial mass for Jack Loftus, at St. Stephen's of Hungary @ 408 East 82nd Street. After the mass we’ll walk three blocks along York Avenue back to Bailey’s Corner, Jack's old gin mill and toast him. If you knew Jack, and you’re local, I hope you make it there to say goodbye.

The only time I saw Jack outside his tavern, other than St. Stephen’s or Yankee Stadium was walking along the East River. Here’s the scene. Much as it was 60 years ago, except for this and that. Bye, Jack.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I'll Have None of Your Shenanigans! ~ Return of the Nerds!

Last night, I worried about performing at Adam Wade's "Whatever Happened to the Nerds?" storytelling show. The talent line-up was packed with seasoned yarn spinners: Peter Aguero, Maya Genis, Jake Goldman & Andy Ross (I used to watch Andy on Ed Sullivan ~ he's better than the guy spinning the plates). I was the rookie.

How could I ensure the alien audience would embrace my story?

I planted my mother in the house in a seat alongside Murt the Barkeep from Loftus Tavern.

Mom's famous for her TV laugh track on "Bilko," and "Car 54 Where Are You?" Nat Hiken, the shows' creator hired Mom, not yet 18, on the spot when he heard her laughing at a friend's joke while sitting on a stool in Nedick's on 6th Ave and 49th Street in 1952. I brought Murt for ammunition. His ongoing murmuring under his breath with his strong Irish brogue has a giddy effect on everyone around him. Not sure how well I succeeded, but I was comfortable on stage having Mom and Murt in the peanut gallery. Mom & Murt saluted all the performers with raised lollipops.

After the show Mom went directly home to tell the birds. Murt sat in the back of the tavern in a booth, nursed his whiskey and told anyone who would listen, “I’ll have none of your shenanigans. I threw your father out of the place and I'll do the same to you. Stop your gallivanting and get your carcass down to Magnet Theater for “Whatever Ever Happened to the Nerds,” next show May 30th. Rest your soul, Have a pop, your mother approves."

Monday, April 25, 2011

P.S. 77 Mothers' Club Supports Nerds

From the group that put an 18 inch ruler on every P.S. 77 desk comes a new cause, Melodious Mothers support Adam Wade's "Whatever Happened to the Nerds?"

Ten women, three tons of song directed at a public clamoring for a good story. The P.S. 77 Mother's Club has long stood behind worthy causes: leaner cold cuts, more crumbs on Glaser's Sunday cake, and clean bathrooms in Carl Schurz Park.

I spoke with Adam Wade by phone,"I can't say enough how great it feels to have the Mother's Club behind me. They throw amazing parties with terrific food, and always close the show with "Fine & Dandy," one of my favorite George Carlin bits."

Less you be in trouble with the girls:

Tonight, drop by "Whatever Happened to the Nerds?" with a great storytelling lineup:

Peter Aguero, Maya Genis, Jake Goldman, Thomas Pryor, Andy Ross and your host, Adam Wade.

@ 8:30pm @ Magnet Theater @ 254 West 29th Street. (bet. 7th & 8th Ave)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bunny Giganticus


"It's bigger than Nan's turkey!" Rory said.

"Leave me alone, it's too early."

"Tommy, I swear it's huge, get up."

I tried to punch Rory but missed and my momentum carried me out of the bunk bed onto the bedroom floor.

I scratched my butt through my PJ's' on the short walk to the kitchen. Two steps.

"Holy crap!"

Rory was right; this was the largest chocolate bunny I'd ever seen. It took up half the space on the dinner table. Nearly twice the size of the big one in the window at Woolworth's. This monster rabbit was surrounded by painted Easter eggs and cream filled chickadees. Mom out did herself, but this was no surprise with Mom when it came to chocolate and sweets.

When she was 13, her class at St. Joseph's visited a candy factory in New Jersey owned by Father Heidi's family. When the kids were leaving the factory, the nun pulled Mom aside and patted her down. Mom had pounds of chocolate stuck in various spots on her clothing and body. The nun grew suspicious when Mom kept her winter coat on for the whole trip despite the fact it was an unusually warm April day.

When I got home from school, I knew Mom was having a good afternoon if she had chocolate stuck between her teeth. She smiled a lot after chocolate, and smiled harder when Dad hit his thumb with a hammer.

Happy Easter, Mom.


Tomorrow night, Monday, April 25th, I'll be storytelling at Adam Wade's "Whatever Happened to the Nerds?" @ Magnet Theater @ 254 West 29th Street @ 8:30pm with a great storytelling lineup: Peter Aguero, Maya Genis, Jack Goldman & Andy Ross. Come on down!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

86th Street's Droopy Stoop ~ Now & Then


On the southeast corner of 86th Street and York Avenue is a stoop that caught my interest as a kid. 500 East 86th Street. It was the highest one on the block. I’d wait on top for my father to get off the crosstown bus. Sitting there, I noticed the railing on both sides looked like a really fat elephant sat on it and made it droop. Never knew why. Last month, I had a conversation with my friend, Bill Chefalas, and he told me a story.

Our Stoop – 500 East 86th Street

During the period 1955 to 1958, I, along with other neighborhood friends, used to meet almost daily, and sit at the very top of the stairs, where we could see out over the cars and people on to York Avenue. We would alternate between the stoop and the popular Kronk’s ice cream parlor, a block away on 87th Street--the stoop was more private. On any given day, there were at least 20 to 30 of us who would congregate at these places. Some came from as far as the Bronx to meet there. (I walked every day from 81st Street and 1st). For these were some of the most popular places for us to meet girls and arrange dates. A few of us had cars, but I didn’t. And the ones that did, used to take us on rides to Coney Island and Freedom Land in the Bronx, and long rides around the Belt Parkway.

Our “stoop,” had a very large decorative stone lintel about six feet wide, located at the top of the stairs high above the door, and one day, probably around 1957, the lintel came crashing down on the two railings. If you look today, you can still see the two parallel bends on the railings that were caused by the crashing stone. Luckily, we weren't sitting there at the time. Every time I pass by that building, I look over at the stoop to see if the bent railings are still there, and they still are. Seeing those bends, bring back the memories of those days, and I can still picture me and my friends sitting there.

By Bill Chefalas



Friday, April 22, 2011

Turtles Reunion in Central Park

I witnessed a remarkable reunion in Central Park yesterday, "The Turtles!" That's right, "The Turtles," performed four songs while sunning on a rock in Rowboat Lake.

They crooned, "She'd Rather Be With Me," Elenore," "You Showed Me," & "She's My Girl," with one encore, "Hungry Heart."

Bruce Springsteen turned into a Turtle and joined them on the rock. See the pictures, the little guy on left is "The Turtles" new drummer, Moe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Garland Jeffreys, New York Storyteller ~ Loves His Town

photo by Danny Clinch

“Twenty two stops to the city, twenty two stops…” Garland Jeffreys voice kicks in joining the drum’s anthem beat on “Coney Island Winter,” his terrific new single from his forthcoming album “The King of In Between,” a lament and love letter to New York City. (Release date: June 7th through Luna Park Records).

This week, I wrote about my musical hero, Garland Jeffreys, in my "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts," column in Our Town and the West Side Spirit.

When I was 8, I saw Mickey Mantle in the RKO movie house on 86th Street. The Yankees were promoting "Safe At Home," a silly film made right after the 1961 record home run year. Before the movie started, the whole team filed into the theatre and lined up on the right aisle. I was positioned perfectly with my father. Elston Howard, I could've touched and Mantle right next to him I could've reached with my sneaker. Howard saw my face with my mouth open looking at Mantle, Ellie leaned over and whispered, "Say hi, kid, he won't bite." I remained in my trance. Howard and my father laughed, and a moment later the Yankees marched up to the stage took a bow and left the place through a fire exit.

I swore if I ever met another one of my heroes, I'd start talking and not stop. This wouldn't be very productive if I intended on writing about it, so I used one of my childhood tricks to shut up, I put my whole fist in my mouth and let Garland talk. This was difficult but rewarding. We hung out in a cafe for an hour. No surprise, he is a nice fellow.

Brooklyn born, Manhattan native, Garland Jeffreys, is a New York City storyteller who uses the medium of music to lay his story down. His introspective autobiographical songs effectively use New York as a character. Listen to “New York Skyline,” “Ghost Writer,” or “Wild in The Street.” You cannot separate him from the city or the city from who he is. Even when the city is not mentioned by name you sense it in the words and tone of the characters he paints in his songs.

Jeffreys’s cultural background is black, white, and Puerto Rican. He grew up (22 subway stops from the city) in Sheepshead Bay in a multi-ethnic neighborhood where his was the only family of color in his local Catholic church. This racial diversity underlines and at times punctuates his music. Over coffee last week in a First Avenue cafe, he told me, “Growing up in that multi-national neighborhood in a large and loving extended family was a blessing. It readied me for the world. I’ve always mixed well with people.” In the restaurant, I saw evidence of this when he warmly greeted the wait staff with waves and a smile. Easy to see why Garland counts Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reeds as close friends.

Garland is married to Claire Jeffreys, a writer and his business manager. Their talented daughter, Savannah, 14, pens her own music. Being there for his family is the central reason Garland’s been out of the musical limelight for several years. “I did not want to be on the road all the time; I wanted to watch my daughter grow up.” He also wondered whether or not he should re-engage with the business of making music. After a long period of retreat, he came to see that in the end, performing is the most important facet of his musical identity, and little by little the performing led to a desire to get back to writing new material.

Though prejudice wasn’t flagrant in my family, the subtleties were there mostly fed by fear of the unknown. Hearing Garland’s stories, seeing the city through his eyes, visualizing his “Racial Repertoire,” gave me a desire to engage other cultures and consider the race issue from both sides. This readied me when I went to work for city government and comfortably adjusted to the cultural diversity there.

In June 1992, I drove my brother, Rory, upstate to a rehab program. Not for the first time. He and I tried hard to become closer as brothers, but we couldn’t make it work. I loved Rory but didn’t know him. At the same point, I was having my own personal problems and about to change jobs. I came home to New York City miserable. The next day, I read Garland Jeffreys was giving a free concert at Summerstage in Central Park. I felt low, I almost didn’t go.

Garland played for two hours. The cops were dancing by the third song. It was a gorgeous day and people whirling around sent the dust on the floor of the space into the air where it stayed. I wrote my first story when I was 49, eight years ago. The seed to write the story was planted in Central Park at that show.

Garland Jeffreys & the Coney Island Playboys headline the Highline Ballroom next Saturday, April 30th. Tickets are available. His live performances are legend, don’t miss it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New York Orphanages ~ A View to the Past

I have a deep interest in the history of New York City orphanages. My grandfather, Thomas E. Pryor, spent seven years in Father Drumgoole’s Staten Island orphanage, Mount Loretto. Father Drumgoole first orphanage was for Homeless Newsboys at 53 Warren Street two blocks from City Hall. Prior to building the Staten Island complex, Father Drumgoole built “City House,” a ten story orphanage which stood at the northeast corner of Lafayette Street & Great Jones Street. It’s now the parking lot directly across the street from the restaurant that was formerly The Time CafĂ©.

Last week, I was in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. I had time to kill before an appointment and walked around the neighborhood. At 12th Avenue & 64th Street I passed a property with a long tall wall surrounding most of the site. I saw an entrance open and walked in to a huge complex with a large garden taking up half the space. A fellow was working on his car, I asked him where I was, “The Angel Guardian Home for Little Children,” he said.

The Home opened in 1899; if you go to the link you can read a New York Times article about the event. I walked around for 20 minutes and thought about the loss of family and being little in this place and though the garden was pretty not much else cheered me up. The worn beauty is interesting and the enormity of the institution is awe inspiring but it’s a sad place. Here is a link to the photos I took.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Polo Grounds Memory

"Hey Dad, who were you just talking to down at the end of the bar?"

"Oh, that's Al Dorow, the quarterback for the New York Titans."

It was fall 1961, Dad and I were in Loftus Tavern after throwing the ball around outside on York Avenue. My two teams, the New York Giants, football, and the Yankees, baseball, were playing well, the Yankees won the World Series in October and the Giants were on their way to the NFL championship game. The Titans, in their second year in the new American Football League, were barely catching my attention at 7 years old. But Al Dorow was a professional football player, and he did talk to my Dad, so that made him important in my life.

"Dad, will you take me to a Titan game?"

The next Saturday, Dad took me to the Polo Grounds where we saw the Titans beat the Oakland Raiders. That was my first time at the Polo Grounds, the Natural History Museum of ballparks compared to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yankee Stadium. Even at 7, I recognized I was in a place like no other, and it was going to go away forever, you could see it, smell it, hear it, feel it. Being small, only emphasized how outsized the space was, first time I saw a picture of St. Peter's Basilica I thought of the Polo Grounds.

The next year, 1962, was the Mets first year. I punished my father for not taking me to New York Giants football games, so he made it up to me by taking me to many, many baseball games. When the Yankees were out of town it was only natural that he would take me up to the Polo Grounds for a Met game and he picked a beaut for our first outing.

Friday night, June 1, 1962, the New York Mets versus the San Francisco Giants. The first New York appearance by the Giants since they ran away from home with the Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1957 season. Even though there were nearly 45,000 people there, Dad found us two seats high up in the grandstands right behind home plate in Section 1. The crowd's energy felt like they just left Circus Maximus, saw too few Christians die and wanted blood, now!

Dad did a score card in pencil, and I remember getting excited about three names, Paul Pryor, the third base umpire had the same last name as mine; Augie Donatelli, the head umpire behind the plate had the greatest sounding umpire's name I ever heard; and Willie Mays, in my mind Mickey Mantle's arch rival, was starting in centerfield for the Giants.

By the time the game started, there were two ejections in the section next to us. By the third inning, Dad threatened the guy behind us, "If one more drop of beer touches my kid's head, you and I have a problem." The guy said nothing. I stayed dry. In the top of the fifth, Willie Mays hit a homer, the only homer I would ever see Willie hit live. The homer triggered fights on top of us, below us and to each of our sides. I spent the sixth inning under my father's seat watching the game from between his legs. Dad pressed me to leave and I agreed when the Giants went up 9-1 in the top of the 7th inning.

I held Dad's hand walking to the subway. I knew he liked that.

This story appeared first in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Losers Lounge & The East Village Moon

Losers's Lounge on a warm spring night with an East Village moon. Life is good.

I saw Joe McGinty and The Kustard Kings pay tribute to Neil Diamond at Joe's Pub on Thursday. They and their guests artists were terrific. Thank you, Claudia Chopek, for navigating me to the show. Thank you, Ward White, Nick Danger & KB, for making me comfortable in the crow's nest.

Here are photos.

The New Yorker plugged Ward's CD record release show at Bowery Electric this Tuesday, April 19th for "Done With The Talking Cure."

The record is great, come down and hear it. Joe McGinty is doing a full set, too.




Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jack Loftus, Yorkville Tavern Owner, Dies at 90

Jack Loftus, one of Yorkville’s great men passed away peacefully last week at 90 years old. Jack was an Irishman proud to count America as his home, a WW II Army captain, a tavern owner, neighborhood leader and a loyal New York Giant football fan.
Jack owned Loftus Tavern on the southwest corner of 85th Street & York Avenue from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. During that time and right up to last week, Jack lived in the apartment building over the bar.
The 1954 night I was born in Woodside, Queens, Dad hailed a Checker cab in front of the hospital. They drove over the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan where Dad danced on top of Loftus bar. Jack attended my baptism, communion and wedding. He never turned down a kid with a raffle or failed to buy out a table at a local dance.
Jack is one of my favorite Yorkville memories. Here are some Loftus Tavern pictures and an anecdote involving Jack and his sweet generosity.
On Saturday, April 30th @ 12 noon, there will be a Memorial Mass for Jack Loftus @ Saint Stephen of Hungary Church @ 408 East 82nd Street.
After the mass, I expect folks will walk over to Bailey’s Corner on 85th & York to toast Jack at the tavern formerly known as Loftus Tavern. The original bar is still there.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Talking Scales

"Please! Step on the scale!" A firm male voice directed me.

I waited a second; listening hard to make sure she sounded busy three rooms away. When I heard the sink running, I got on and the number came up.

"Your weight is 178 pounds. Have a nice day. Goodbye!"

I'm a fat bastard.

Laughing started in the kitchen at the other end of the railroad apartment on York Avenue. My grandmother with the hearing ability of a nocturnal animal was clearing her lungs and stomach, big ol' belly laughs starting way down. I wanted to kill her, and kick my cousin in the ass for buying her the talking scale with Don Pardo's voice. I loved Nan dearly but she wanted me fat. She wanted everyone fat. She loved food and loved eating with people, so she filled her fridge to the point it was dark in there, because the 15 watt light bulb was shaded by a colossal head of iceberg lettuce sitting on two large tubs of Cool Whip. The Cool Whip to go on top of the Turf Cheese Cake that she bought right next to our house. Italian Village pizza place on First Avenue considered her family and the Parker's bought their first car on the profits they made off Nan's cold cut orders. She never bought a quarter pound of nothing. Half pound was a snack. Three quarters of a pound was getting into sandwich country. I was a cold cut junkie.

Similar to recreational drug friendships, the bonds with my friends were strengthened by the load of cold cuts, Jewish rye and condiments in my Nan's fridge.

Artie Peters met me on Saturday afternoons on lunch break from my delivery job at Corner Pharmacy on 79th & York. We'd go straight to Parkers, buy a pound of Swiss cheese and a loaf of rye on Nan's credit in the marble book, go up the apartment and make six grilled cheeses, two each ~ Nan included. We made dark chiaroscuro swirls on Nan's white tin ceiling with the plume of smoke coming from the butter soaked black frying pan with the foot high flame under it.

Buddy McMahon and I, had a kind of exchange student relationship with his mom and my grandmother. I'd sometimes hang out with his Mom and shoot the shit while she loaded me up with 4 C Ice Tea. Buddy would drop by my grandmother's when I wasn't there for a quick sandwich and glass of milk and catch up on the local gossip & politics.

About a month after Nan got the scale, Buddy dropped up the apartment, for a change, while I was there.

"Hey, Buddy, try out the new scale," Nan said.

Obediently, Buddy stepped on the scale clueless, and Nan looked like she just ate a canary.

"Your weight is 180 pounds. Have a nice day! Goodbye!"

Buddy startled, frowned and rubbed his belly, I was pleased, and Nan grinned.