Saturday, March 31, 2012

Touchstone Palaces of My Youth


Touchstone palaces of my youth: old Yankee Stadium, the original movie houses up 86th Street and in distant third place various churches. Something holy happened to me in each of these temples. Churches are still here, but don’t hold my attention anymore. Old Yankee Stadium was buried under the horrible renovation after the 1973 season. The RKO and Loew’s theatres on East 86th Street were chopped up shortly after the 1960s. 

Yesterday, I took a trip on the PATH train to the classic Loew’s Jersey Theatre at Journal Square. This beauty opened in 1929 same year my Dad was born. It has 3100 seats, same size as the old 86th Street RKO.  Secret, don’t tell anybody: the Yorkville RKO’s Lounge downstairs under the lobby was huge with lots of comfy furniture, a giant black table and several paintings. Matching its size, the urinals in the men’s room were mammoth. Top of one came up to my eight year old head. When we played hide and seek in the RKO after watching the movie twice we’d sometimes hide in the urinals.

The urinals are not over-sized at the Loew’s Jersey but everything else about it made me feel like an explorer breaking through the bush and finding an ancient city.  From outside the theatre you barely get a sense of the majesty beyond the gold doors. All the luxurious decorations inside are there to help suspend your disbelief for a few hours and transport you to another world.  Last night, I went to the land of the “Dude.” The film was “The Big Lebowski.” I felt safe knowing “the Dude abides.”  By the way, before the film we were entertained by an organ that rose from the orchestra pit. This was a blow my mind bonus since the Yorkville theatres had no live music when I was a boy.  You had to go to Radio City for that. Visit the Loew's Jersey if you can, it will not disappoint.

Thank you, Eric Vetter, for turning me on to this treasure, I had a blast last night.



Below are pictures from Loew’s Jersey Theatre and a link to a hundred other photographs.

























Friday, March 30, 2012

"You Win Some, You..." Carl Schurz Park 1966


Hockey Field in Carl Schurz Park ~ Yorkville

On my 12th birthday in March 1966, Dad gave me a basketball. This was an odd present for two reasons: (1) Dad gifts to me reflected his interests and he hated basketball. (2) I was terrible at basketball. Right after Christmas 1965, I made up my mind I was going to change that.

I would learn to dribble the ball with my right hand, drive in both directions to the basket, and force myself to jump higher. My vertical leap was challenged. When Dad and I played catch he’d sometimes throw the ball a little over my head just so he could get a kick out of the short distance I put between the sidewalk and my chubby body with the dead legs. My left handed dribbling was something to watch. Each time I played a new rival I’d drive left, hit two to three baskets with a nasty hook until my opponent figured out the lack of right in my game and then I’d be blanketed for the rest of the match. I played basketball for a good sweat because it certainly wasn’t pleasurable.
Tom & Bob Pryor Drive in Carl Schurz Park 1956


Dad was sick of hearing how much I wanted a basketball from New Year’s through St. Paddy’s Day so he bought the ball to shut me up. On my birthday, Dad passed the ball to me over Mom’s head as she was doing the dishes. I named it Joe, after my round headed friend from 84th Street. I had to try it out at Carl Schurz Park. I thanked and kissed my parents, my brother, Rory, rolled his eyes and I ran down the four flights of stairs into the street.

A blast of wind headed west smacked my face on the 83rd Street stoop. I awkwardly dribbled the ball with one hand towards East End Avenue avoided the Drive near the water figuring a gale storm was whipping the river up. In the park, at the basketball court in the Hockey Field my left hand was numb and my arm was coiled like a cripple. I took my first shot from the top of the key, a doozy. It left my hand on a high arc and caught a stream of angry air that lifted and carried the ball over the left side of the back board. Losing altitude near the fence, it struck a spike, let out a death rattle, “whish,” and hung there disheartened. I walked over to the ball, gave it an up and down but didn’t bother to touch it. It was useless. Like the ball, deflated, I walked home.

Tom driving left

Carl Schurz Park 1900


Carl Schurz ~ East River Drive 2010


Carl Schurz Park 1936


2010 looking south ~ Carl Schurz Park

East End Avenue in 1960 looking north towards 85th St.

Tom Hockey Field 1964


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joannie Baloney





Joan Heuer, the funniest person I've ever met, was born today in 1935 in East Harlem.

She moved to Yorkville with the Ryan family in 1944. Joannie was my godmother and my Mom's middle sister, her younger sister, Barbara is in pictures above along with one of Uncle Mommy below at Joannie's daughter, Christine's christening. Also a picture of chubbsy-ubsy Joannie at Coney Island 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 and 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 24, 2012

Shine On, Uncle Mommy


Paying tribute to Uncle Mommy, Patricia Pryor, today would have been her 82th birthday. When Mom was my age she made Dad drive her to Eisenhower Park in Long Island early on a Sunday morning to be at the finish line of my first and only half marathon. When I came in she met me with a hug, kiss, flowers and a quart of orange juice that she encouraged me to drink straight from the carton (Dad hated that). 

Mom gave me many nicknames, Tee, Klutz, Cow Cow Boogie, but the sweetest and my favorite, she called me “her little mouse.” I love cheese and she said I gnawed toast with my teeth instead of biting and chewing it. (I did, to make it last longer).
Below, is a charcoal drawing of Mom by Dad when she was 31 years old in 1961. (I remember the night Dad did it on 83rd Street. Dad kept telling Mom to stop moving). Also below, a few photos of Patty or Pat, the names were interchangeable. Everybody loved her, and Pat's coffee cup for 40 years along with the hot chocolate cup she gave to me, Tom, her little mouse.


I am lucky, I have a film of my parents going in and out St. Stephen’s on their wedding day in September 1952.  For the first time in about 10 years, I watched it the other day three times and had a good cry.

I’m grateful to have had people in my life that I miss all the time. She’s gone 14 years, but I’ll never stop thinking about and loving with my whole heart my Uncle Mommy.














Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rory said, "I'm Going to NoName Stories @ Word Up Tonight"

My middle name is Rory, my brother's name was Rory. Mom loved Dad, sometimes. If you read the story below, you'll get it.

If someone says hello to me I flinch and duck. My nerves are shot, today is my birthday.

I'm telling a story tonight at NoName Stories @ WordUp Bookstore @ 7pm in Washington Heights. I'm spilling the beans.

I wrote the story below at a kitchen table on Mom's birthday in 2006.  It's a clear view inside my family's Yorkville apartment.  Bob and Patty loved us, but they were out of their minds.



Rory was previously published in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, the coolest NYC literary journal out there. Check it out. Thank you, Tom Beller,  Patrick Gallagher, Jean Paul Cataviela & Connor Gaudet for your generosity and support.












March 1954. In a Woodside apartment overlooking the # 7 El and the Long Island Railroad, two express trains crisscrossed, one rattling over the other.
“I need food!” Patty pleaded, rubbing her big belly in the kitchen.
“There’s plenty of food,” Bob answered, playing with the bunny ears on top of the living room TV.
“YOU’RE A LIAR!” Patty opened the refrigerator and eyed the contents for the fifth time in five minutes.
“There’s no food-food, only junk. I want bread, I want bacon, I want Hellman’s mayonnaise!”
Disregarding her request, Bob shook the ice in the spaghetti pot chilling his six bottles of Rheingold. Wiping his hands on a dish towel, he definitely heard Patty’s next statement: “Get off your bony ass and get me food!”
Bob ignored this, too. It was ‘Friday Night at the Fights,” he’d just settled in – first round, first beer. Desiring perfect comfort, Bob moved a hassock over to put his feet up. While doing this, Bob missed the left hook that sent one of the boxers to the canvas with a thud. Unfortunately, Bob’s man was down. So was Bob, $20. After the stiff was counted out, the telecast went to a commercial. Disappointed, but now available for chores, Bob wrapped his arm around his extremely pregnant wife’s head.
She pushed him away, “Get off. You know I hate anyone touching my head.”
Bob bent over, kissed Patty’s cheek and asked her softly, “What do you need, Hon?”
Patty reeled off five items, aimed her lips up and kissed Bob on the mouth.
Back from the store, Bob put his beers in the fridge, washed the pot and put water on for spaghetti. Grabbing a black frying pan, he made two bacon sandwiches with extra mayo on Silvercup bread. After serving Patty both sandwiches, he took a beer and joined her at the kitchen table.
“So, we’re decided on baby names, right? Marc Anthony if he’s a boy, and Alison Leigh if she’s a girl.”
Bob smiled. Patty did not.
“You’re so full of shit. The girl’s name is fine. When you name the boy Marc Anthony, be sure you walk carefully over my dead body; because that’s the only way that stupid guinea name will ever appear on my son’s birth certificate.”
Bob’s expression fell.
“Oh cut the crap and get that stupid puss off your face.”
“So what name do you want?”
“Rory,” she said.
            “Huh?”
“R-O-R-Y, Rory.”
“Like Calhoun, the movie cowboy?”
“Yes, it’s an old Gaelic name meaning Red King.”
“Red? Our hair is black. It’s a girly name – you’re guaranteeing he’ll get the shit kicked out of him.”
It grew quiet. The only sound in the room was Patty’s low hum. She loved bacon.
Fracturing the silence, Bob said, “It’ll be Rory when Brooklyn wins the World Series.”
“I’ll alert the press.”
Bob, “Give me an alternative.”
“Nope,” Patty said, in between bites.
“Then I’ll give you one: Thomas.”
“That’s inspired.” Patty pointed her sandwich at Bob. “I thought we agreed, no fathers’ names?”
“It’s my brother’s name, too.”
“You mean we’re going to name him after Stone Face?”
“That’s my compromise. You’ll get to name the next baby.”
Patty swallowed a large bite of mayo, with a little bit of bacon and bread attached to it. She chewed slowly, wiped her mouth and said, “OK.”
March 20th, Patty gave birth to an eight-pound boy. When the nurse let Bob into the recovery room and he saw Patty cradling the baby, he started to cry. 
“Oh stop your blabbering and give me a kiss.”
“How do you feel?”
“Not too swift,” Patty said, wiping sweat from her brow.
Bob, lightly rubbing the baby’s dark hair, asked, “How’s Tommy?”
“Doctor said he’s fine. Isn’t he beautiful?”
Bob picked up the wrinkled, red-faced boy. He thought the baby’s head looked like a grapefruit. A gorgeous grapefruit. Bob held the baby for a long time, then returned him to Patty.
“I have to fill out the birth certificate. I was thinking about Robert as a middle name,” Bob said.
“No,” she answered.
“Why not?”
“You picked the first name. I pick the middle name.”
“No, no, no, you get to name the next baby.”
            “No, I get to name the next baby’s first name, and you get to name the next baby’s second name.”
“But…” Bob spoke uselessly.
“No buts.” Patty closed the discussion. “Tommy’s middle name is Rory.”
That night, Bob temporarily parked his anger, and hailed a cab to his old Manhattan neighborhood. He celebrated his first son by dancing on the bar in Loftus Tavern on 85th Street and York Avenue. A month later, the boy was christened, Thomas Rory. When the priest repeated the boy’s second name, Bob rolled his eyes.
Thanksgiving, 1955, Bob and Patty told their families they were expecting again. Throughout the pregnancy, Patty kept Bob in the dark. He begged for clues and whined for hints. Late in the term, Bob tried to bribe Patty by hiding candy bars around the apartment, promising to reveal the locations only if she told him the name. Patty never cracked. Bob prayed for a girl.
June 20th, Patty gave birth to a perfect boy. Bob dropped Tommy off with his grandmother and went directly to the hospital. The room was dimly lit; the baby was sleeping in Patty’s arms. She gave Bob a weak wave. He went over to kiss the mother and son. Patty gently held Bob’s arm, keeping him close. She tilted her head, signaling him to lean in so she could whisper something. Bob pressed his ear to Patty’s dry lips.
“Rory, his name is Rory,” she said precisely.
Bob backed away. “That’s nuts – we’ve already got a Rory.”
“Shush! Middle names don’t count. You promised.”
Bob knew he’d been had. In desperation, he blurted, “His middle name is Robert.”
“Who cares?” she said.
Patty settled back into bed, gave Bob a sly smile and squeezed her Rory tight.





Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy St. Joseph's Day!


March 19th is the Feast of St. Joseph ~ a Yorkville holiday worth getting riled up over.

In second grade, I was chosen to play St. Joseph in a play in front of the St. Stephen of Hungary's school body. Everything about this excited me right up to the beard, but the nun lied. She told us St. Joe was the patron saint for the U.S. Post Office and therefore in heaven he was in charge of the mail between heaven and earth.

I later found out, St. Joseph had never been near a post office but had a lot of other patronage responsibilities including patron saint: against doubt, for cabinetmakers, Canada, carpenters, China, confectioners, craftsmen, dying people, engineers, families, fathers, happy death, holy death, house hunters, Korea, laborers, Mexico, New France, Peru, pioneers, social justice, travelers, Universal Church, Vatican II, Viet Nam, working people.

Alas, I was St. Joseph, and I was in charge of Heaven's post office and as my costume got built by the Nun I got happier and happier. First, I got to wear Father Emeric's cool brown priest sandals. The sandals signaled poverty but to me they signaled taking my toes out for a walk in the cool March air. Then, I got to wear his brown robe with rope belt. The priest uniform, I had the whole priest uniform! And I could swing that Franciscan poverty rope around like a beat cop. I nailed a couple of kids in their seats as I walked up to the stage. They'd get even later.

Sister Lorriane, our teacher, had this thing for the post office and authentic historical scenes and since St. Joe had a beard I was getting a beard. I had no problem until they put the itchy wool choker on my face held on by a thick rubber band over my ears and around my neck that cut off the blood to my brain.

I couldn't stand it, and though I knew my lines I had a problem getting them out of my mouth through the beard to the audience. I fixed it. Every time I spoke I lifted the contraption off my face and spoke my lines out of the side of my mouth.

It was my last feature role.

Happy Saint Joseph's Day!


Mom's 1944 St. Joseph's 8th Grade photo. D Day invasion happened in same month.