A memoir by Thomas R. Pryor; I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood
Review by Kareena Maxwell
In Thomas Pryor’s memoir, “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys tales of a scrappy New York boyhood, (YBK Publishers, NY, ©2014),” the journey is in the details.
“I Hate the Dallas Cowboys…,” is a culmination of Pryor’s early life experiences. He roams as a kid through canyons of family, school, and friends. He hunts; he plays, he has a lot of fun. He remembers floating his boats in the toilet tank above his head, and getting pushed out of his brother’s stroller at six-years-old while his mother, “Swept her leg at me judo-style, trying to knock me off,” toward the hot New York City sidewalk. On New York City stoops he watches his world go by: The sky is the clock and the sidewalks are the society.
The episodes pop up like flashback memories. Often, he sniffs out his past, seemingly with a veil of holding on to family loyalty, or of not wanting to reveal his real feelings. “Hate,” is a resonating word, however we spin around in his memoir with his opposite presentation of love.
We also bounce down tenement stairs – in the gloom of closing the door to his parents arguing as he sprints to the safety of one of his grandmother’s apartments. There was always a place to go where he could eat, sleep, and even shop for his Nan with a specific shopping list…survival skills were par for the course in his childhood.
Holding hands across the family, for a time his grandfather met him after school and as he kept his paw gently nuzzled into the Papa bear’s clasp; Pryor remembers and invites us in to his early life in New York City’s Yorkville district during the early 1950’s to 1972. Behind the curtain in Pop Ryan’s four room railroad apartment into the cool air conditioned room, Pryor still lives. He pees into drinking glasses for fear of upsetting Pop Ryan as to open any part of the sealed off by curtains air conditioned room to go to the bathroom, he thought, would be the worst thing he could do.
We are excited with him, and run down the hallway stairs into the June 21st 1964 date of freedom when forth grade officially ended and his summer life began. He ran from stick ball games to the local grocer like a boy should. Amid the somewhat discordant family life Pryor always felt wanted at either of the other two homes that were available to him as he navigated the Yorkville streets, like a soaring rocket.
He writes about baseball and girls and his first grade teacher, Sister Beatrice. The comfort and excitement is relatable; the transference of the love of his mother to the nurturing nun, as he cradles against her scent, while she ties his shoelaces, is a well described moment. In fact, when he writes about love and sex the scenes are especially alive. Nice.
As his bond grows with his father with the New York sports games that include the New York Yankees and NY Giants as a vehicle, we can feel the catcher’s mitt in our hands. His life skills of managing what he wants are developed at an early age as he knows he should ask his father to take him to the Yankee game in between his father’s 3rd and 4th beers: And it works.
In the game of life in “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys…” Pryor catches the dynamics of a family during the fifties and sixties in the Yorkville section of New York City with a football helmet, and a shrewd brain to steer a family. He has messages of endearment from grandparents Pop Ryan and Nan that make it clear that it was a combination of protection and no protection; freedom and constraints in a “do as I say,” family.
In the collective profiles of his life… we connect; we remember our own lives as we did similar things but probably not in Yorkville, New York City. Pryor throws a pass and we can easily get it. He invites us up the stairs to the ritual of a jumping washing machine, (that he giddy-ups on), and tuna sandwiches that should be mashed and cut to perfection; and the Eskimo room where Pop Ryan escapes the New York City summers.
We are voyeurs into his life. This memoir is written like an open window with a curtain that blows from an occasional summer wind and we peek in; we want more. Pryor’s book is about the love that abounds from his father and mother to the stoop where he transitioned from a day’s end with Pop Ryan. Running from family to family in the blocks where his Irish and Italian relatives served a healthy family experience, and an oasis where he could restore himself without an invitation. The family conflicts are there: Dad drank too much, mom threw important toys into the garbage, and his Nan barely heard him when he told her that he was developing a friendship with Sparky Lyle.
During America’s post WW ll period in New York City his father put their TV on the roof of their building and he read comics with his brother, Rory. At times the reader may feel like they are on sitting on the back of Pryor’s hover board as he soars around the Yorkville New York City life during this time period. Especially poignant was the time when he was jumping over the snow with his father’s suit from the dry cleaners, only to discover that the pants were missing when he got home. His concern was blown down York Avenue when his father told him that he had a second pair.
His struggle to raise $37 for a used portable record player and his entrepreneurial spirit heightened as he sold every religious item he could at his Catholic school for a percentage of the profits, at times touting healing properties from the saints to the troubled buyer. He fell short of the cash needed and his mother sacrificed meat out of the evening meal and gave the $8.00 to him so he could buy the coveted equipment.
The unkind act of his toys and models ending up in the trash, because his mother saw the treasures as dust collectors, is haunting. A pivotal moment in his relationship with her was when he had a cane from his deceased grandfather and his mother wanted to throw it out in exchange for a photograph of the grandfather to keep in the young Pryor’s wallet, is moving when she lends her understanding.
Pryor still lives in Yorkville and much to our delight has taken time to step into his early years. He places a camcorder on our foreheads, presses play and we can’t stop watching. One of the questions is will there be a "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys tales of a scrappy adult? If there is, I will be watching and probably pressing rewind…often.