June 20, 1957, on Rory’s first birthday we moved into apartment #4R at 517 East 83rd Street. Mom let Rory and me run straight into the apartment before my aunts and uncles brought the furniture up. I dragged my brother by his arm. At the window was a fire escape with a nest of baby pigeons. Rory squealed and said his newly learned word, “Wow!”
I felt the same way. “Mom, got to see it, birds, lots of them!” I yelled over my shoulder.
Mom came over in three strides, gave Dad a look and said, “Bob, stay here. I’m taking Tommy and Rory for ice cream.”
On the stairs, we passed Aunt Barbara and Aunt Joan carrying our kitchen table and they gave Mom and us a funny look as sweat dripped down their faces.
When we returned from the store Rory and I ran to the window. No birds.
I asked Dad, “Where they go?”
“Their mom taught them to fly and they took off.”
I said nothing but knew something fishy happened. I had a good cry, Rory saw me, and he started crying too. Rory didn’t know why he was crying; he just liked to cry when I cried.
When the furniture was in and the move was over the adults started cracking beers. The next thing I knew a group of friends and extra relatives showed up. Allie Cobert, Uncle Mickey and Uncle Lenny put on Dad’s white dress shirts and made bow ties out of the ladies kerchiefs and begin singing, “Sweet Adeline.” After the singing sung out, Dad played records on his prized RCA Victrola. Bored, I retreated to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet bowl and did some target practice with my water gun. Out the window into the airshaft, a few quick shots off mom’s bra drying on the towel rack, then up at the naked light bulb on the ceiling. That was fun. The more I shot it, the more it sizzled. I could see smoke coming off it. I kept going.
The bulb exploded, the door flew open and a half dozen people were in the bathroom with me before I could hop off the bowl. Mom was on top of me pretty good but Barbara and Joan extracted me before Mom could figure out what to do with me.
The next day, Barbara came over the apartment to see how we were settling in. She sat in the kitchen drinking coffee with Mom. When Mom wasn’t paying attention, Barbara went to the back window by the fire escape and opened it. Then she sat back down in the kitchen like nothing happened.
Within a few minutes we heard birds, “Tweet, tweet, tweet.” Then it stopped. Two minutes later, “Tweet, Tweet, tweet.”
Mom moaned and said, "Oh, Christ, they’re back.”
I smiled. Then a big gruff voice said, “Fire Inspector, Fire Inspector!”
Mom popped out of her chair. In came Joan in my red fire hat with a big grin on her face.
Joan had gone to the roof and came down to the fourth floor fire escape waiting for Barbara to open the window to let her in. It was not the first, or last time someone came into our Yorkville apartment using something other than the front door.
Happy birthday, Brother.
My book, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," will be published by YBK, October 2014. If you like TV's "The Wonder Years," add tenements, loitering and a subway - you'll slip seamlessly into my world.
Our next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts, show on Tuesday, July 8th @ 6pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe is a doozy.
Our amazing artists: "The Duchess and the Fox, aka, Andrea Diaz and Joe McGinty(standout and founder of The Losers Lounge), Jennifer Barrett (Living Loud), Nicole Ferraro (NY Times) and Harry Rolnick (WSJ). We're bringing the musical side of storytelling to our show in a big way with Andrea, Joe and Jennifer merging with two of my favorite tellers in NYC, Nicole and Harry.