Monday, September 29, 2014

The Ingenuity of Eddie Ekis

403 East 83rd Street girl gang on stoop
Ginny put the 45 on the record player:

You got a thing about you,
I just can’t live without you, I really want you, Elenore, near me.
Your looks intoxicate me, Even though your folks hate me.
There’s no one like you, Elenore, really.

Freddy Muller, Eddie Ekis and I sang along to the Turtles tune. It was July 1968; eighth grade was a distant memory that had ended a month before. We hung out on the 83rd Street stoop where, Ginny, my future girlfriend lived. Ginny had lined a series of extension cords out her first floor window, allowing us to plug in my portable record player.
It was midnight. I was supposed to stay over Freddy’s and he was supposed to stay over my house. But our real intention was to stay out all night and play records on the stoop till the sun came up. Eddie had the same scam. Each of us had our own 45s and we took turns rotating our songs into the play list. We hung onto the words of every tune. Our tastes mingled seamlessly.
Across the street, Mrs. Walsh leaned on her third floor windowsill with a pillow under her chest and arms. I was the unofficial president of the mothers’ fan club and out of all the mothers in the neighborhood, we unanimously agreed, Mrs. Walsh was the best looking. Dark hair, yummy kissable face, a mouth like a sailor and oh, that smile. Her uniform was a muumuu house dress that hid her ins and outs. We prayed they’d come out for a peek. Sometimes, you forgot she was up there. I was sitting on a stoop by myself one day, and I heard, “Hey, Pryor, whatsamatter? You look like you lost your last friggin’ friend in the world.”
Eddie Ekis & Freddy Muller

Mr. Moylan lived on the second floor of the same building. He resembled the actor Edgar Kennedy and hated us playing “Off the Point” in front of his house. We’d hit the Spaldeen off the edge of the ankle-high ledge on the wall directly across the street. If you struck the ball perfectly it would fly off on an angle, gain height, and soar over the outfielder toward Moylan’s building. The outfielder would wait for the carom off the wall.
            That wall had a series of windows, though, and four of them belonged to Moylan. He didn’t lean out the window like Mrs. Walsh, but he had excellent hearing. If he was home and we were playing, his windows would fly open and any balls that went in would never come out.
            At that point, we had to make a big decision. A Spaldeen was expensive, but this was the best point in the neighborhood. We could move around the corner to a safe ballpark without windows, but the point there was mediocre.  We usually stayed put and took our chances. Sometimes, one of us would hit a beauty and we’d all turn and watch the sweet flight of the doomed ball sailing through Moylan’s window.
“Give it back, you bald S.O.B.,” Mrs. Walsh would say, using her two hands to form a megaphone on the sides of her mouth. After the game, we’d go to our locker room – the stoop – plop down, mostly say nothing, and then start giving Moylan the business.
Ginny loved the boys hanging out on her stoop, and Mrs. Chapman, her mother, mostly didn’t mind.  On warm days like this one, when it got dark the music would come out.
Freddy put one on:

Boom, boom…boom boom, boom, ba-boom
Boom, boom…boom boom, boom, ba-boom
I’ve been trying to get to you for a long time,
Because constantly you been on my mind.

Sometime past one, Mrs. Chapman opened the window and said, “This is the last song.” We knew she didn’t mean it – Mrs. Chapman was a softy – so when Freddy took the Turtles off as the song ended I grabbed a new record. But then Mrs. Chapman did the unexpected and yanked the wires. The extension cords disappeared back into the window. This was the first occasion we located Mrs. Chapman’s last straw.
I was a mechanical idiot, and Ginny and Freddy looked blank, but Eddie was working on the light pole in front of the building with his house keys, trying to remove the bottom panel. It popped off and Eddie took something out of the base of the pole – a standard electrical outlet with a short extension cord.
“Edward, you’re a regular Mr. Science,” Freddy said.
“Thank you, Mr. Muller,” Eddie smiled, and motioned with his head, signaling me to bring the record player over. I did, and we plugged our music into the pole on the sidewalk, compliments of NYC’s Department of Highways – Bureau of Lights, or whatever the agency was called.  Eddie and I grabbed a couple of milk boxes and deejayed the tunes, while Freddy and Ginny drummed their sneakers on the stoop.
Around 1:30, we saw Moylan’s head pop out his window and figured we had ten minutes. And that was when the squad car eased to a stop and Officer Bulin joined us.
“What are you doing?”
“Playing records.”
“There’s an outlet on the bottom of the light pole, and we figured it was there for emergencies and things, and this was a thing we needed it for.”
“It’s too late for music, but I’ve got to admit, I didn’t know there was an outlet in the pole. That’s pretty good, but you can’t use it because it’s only for emergencies, OK?”
“Can we play one last song?” Ginny asked.
“That’s it, then, good night. I’m circling the block and three minutes from now, I want silence.”
“OK, thank you, officer.”
Eddie put our last song on:

Cowboys to girls,
 I remember when I used to play shoot ‘em up,
Shoot ‘em up, bang, bang, baby.
I remember when I chased the girls and beat ‘em up.

When the Intruders song ended, we put the panel back, closed the record player and sat on the stoop silently. Officer Bulin came around the block and gave us a soft smile, then he put his head out the driver’s side window, cupped a hand by his mouth and yelled up, “Good night, Mrs. Walsh,” as she waved down from the third floor.

This coming Saturday, October 4th, help us honor and remember Eddie Ekis our friend, Yorkville son & SJU Rugby brother. We’ll celebrate Eddie’s love for life on Saturday, October 4th from 4pm to 9pm in the York-Hill Coop’s Community Room at 1540-1550 York Avenue (bet. 81St & 82 St.) 

There will be music, lot’s of Eddie’s stuff, pizza, salad, wine, beer and soft drinks. $15 per person. The community room is located in the basement on the 81st St. side of the building. Enter through the main entrance on York Ave and take the elevator to the basement; the community room is on the south end. If you loved Eddie, please join us.

Many of us claim Edward was our best friend. He was. Boredom was impossible if Mr. Ekis was around. In 1973, we watched the soap operas, “How to Survive A Marriage” and “Somerset” on a portable TV every week day while missing classes at Hunter & CCNY. We climbed out his 2nd story kitchen window onto the roof deck over the 82nd St. tailor’s shop, the caged deck that doubled as an exercise area for his monkeys, Toto and Chiquita. When was the last time you drank Yago Sangria with two monkeys swinging over your head? That lost semester our A’s & B’s magically turned into C’s & D’s.

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