Sunday, November 30, 2014

Two Guys Talking on the Corner


Dad and I did four things together: play sports, attend sports, watch TV, and go to the movies. I liked movies the best; it’s much harder telling a kid what to do in the dark. You would have loved taking me to the movies when I was 6 years old. I was a cheap date, one box of Pom Poms caramels and a dime soda kept me blissful through the whole film and I shut up. Didn’t want to miss anything.
It was the fall of 1960, which I remember for three reasons. I had just started first grade, the Yankees had lost to the Pirates in the World Series, and Dad was rooting for Nixon against Kennedy to spite my Irish grandfather. I still believed my father was infallible.  He never had to use this line on me -- “Are you gonna believe what you see or what I tell you?” He accomplished his goals without direct engagement. Looking back, I suspect he periodically forgot I was his son and thought I was the most intelligent dog in the world. But this day would be different.
            Dad’s charm was in full swing as he pulled me along up 86th Street. I kept my eye out for friends. The last thing I needed were the guys giving me the business, “Daddy still holds ya hand, Tommy the baby!” Resistance was futile, so I decided to keep tight to Dad’s side so it looked like we were just walking very close together.
“So, what do you want to see?” Dad stopped at the corner of Third Avenue, moved the cigarette out of his mouth and looked down at me. “The Mouse that Roared, a very funny comedy, or that other film up there, The Time Machine?”
            Up ahead of us on the north side of 86th Street were two movie houses, the Loew’s Orpheum and the gigantic RKO.
            “What are they about?”
            “Well... The Mouse That Roared is about a tiny little country that declares war on the United States. The star of the film, Peter Sellers, is a famous English comedian. You’ll love him.”
I just stared at Dad hoping he’d move on. I didn’t like war. Finally he said, “The Time Machine is a science fiction movie I don’t know much about.”
“What do you know?”
“It’s about time travel.”
“I want to see The Time Machine.”
Dad stared down at me, holding the look, hoping I’d keep talking. I didn’t. Getting this look made me nervous and I usually blabbed on just like Dad wanted so he could carefully talk me out of something. But this time we just stared at each other.
After a traffic-light-missing pause, Dad said, “What???”
“I love time travel.”

            Dad rolled his eyes. He had no clue how crazy I was for Mr. Peabody and Sherman on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which I watched faithfully every Sunday. Mr. Peabody invented the WABAC Machine (pronounced “way back”), which allowed him and Sherman to time-travel to ancient Rome, the voyages of Columbus, the dinosaur era, you name it. I wasn’t sure what science fiction was, but I loved time travel.
Dad recovered. “Oh, I bet it’s going to be one of those talky films you hate.”
I said nothing.
Dad threw a wild punch, hoping it would land. “If we go to The Mouse That Roared I’ll take you to Prexy’s afterwards for a hamburger and a milk shake.”
I ducked his shot. “Why can’t we go to Prexy’s anyway?”
Dad’s shoulders rolled forward and his chest fell as he grabbed my hand. Swiftly, we crossed Third Avenue, sidestepping the spray from a street-cleaner truck, and headed to the RKO to see Rod Taylor, whoever he was, in The Time Machine.


This is an excerpt from my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," available at Amazon and all other online booksellers. If you would like to buy a signed copy directly from me either in person or by mail - email me at  tommy.pryor@gmail.com


"Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" is coming home to the old neighborhood on Thursday, December 4th for a terrific Holiday Show @ Ryans Daughter 350 East 85th Street @ 7 to 10pm. Our artists: Eric Vetter & his unplugged band, Michele Carlo, Lincoln C. Chinnery, Abbi Crutchfield, Walter Michael DeForest & Colin Dempsey. FREE show, come on down!

If you can't make Yorkville on December 4th, Monday, December 1st I'm be telling a story in the East Village at We Three Productions Reading at 2A, 25 Ave A @ 2nd St. - Upstairs ~ FREE  

Tuesday, December 9th we have our next monthly "Stoops to Nuts" storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe with with these fine artists: Muneesh Jain; Margarita Pracatan; Elizabeth Rowe; Jeff Rose




Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Girl Who Killed Santa

Santa Killer Deborah Kovarik
Thanksgiving morning, 1961.  Mom woke me quietly and whispered, “Rory is sick. If you wake him up before you leave, you’re not going either.” 
I nodded my head yes. I felt bad that my brother wouldn’t see the parade, but I was happy to go with Dad alone. It was much easier having a good time with Dad when it was just the two of us. This was my first Macy’s parade and I didn’t want one of Dad’s bad moods blowing it.
At nine o’clock, we slipped out the door. We met Dad’s friend Richie Kovarik and his daughter, Deborah, inside Loftus Tavern a few blocks away. The four of us were going together. Richie was talking to Jack, the bar’s owner, over coffee. Deborah sat on a barstool sipping a Coke and sucking a cube of ice with the hole in the middle. She was a year older than I was, stuck up, and knew everything.
I hated her guts.
Richie greeted us. “Hi, Bob. Where’s Rory?”
“He’s sick. We’ll catch up later at my mother’s for dinner. Hi, Deborah, you look so pretty and grown up.”
With a wide phony smile she said, “Thank you, Mr. Pryor.”
I almost vomited.
Saying goodbye to Jack, we went out the bar’s side door, smack into a vicious cold wind. A Checker cab was just turning off York Avenue heading west on 85th Street.
            “Cabby,” Dad yelled and we piled in.
Despite plenty of room to sit alongside our fathers, Deborah and I naturally sat on the round pull-up seats that faced them.  That’s because for adults a Checker cab was transportation, but for kids it was an amusement ride and the bouncy pull-up seats were why. It was better than most rides, in fact, because there was nothing to strap you in.
Deborah and I didn’t acknowledge each other. The cab made it nonstop from York Avenue to Fifth Avenue through a swirl of green and yellow lights. My head slapped the roof several times. The driver impressed me.  Crossing Fifth Avenue, we dove into the Transverse through Central Park.
“You’re in second grade, right?” Deborah asked.
“Yes.”
“I’m in third grade,” she said, pleased as punch.
She knew what grade I was in. She continued talking while looking out her window. I tried ignoring her.
“What are you getting for Christmas?” she asked.
That was a dirty trick. It’s nearly impossible for a kid to stay silent when this subject comes up.
“Things,” I said.
"Huh?"

“I’m getting a bike and an Erector set.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“What did you ask for?” Deborah pressed on.
“I’m still deciding. I have a list.”
“What’s on the list?”
“Lots of stuff.”
“Oh, come on, name a few things.”
“That’s between me and Santa.”
“WHAT?” she said.
“It’s between me and Santa.”
“Well, good luck, dummy, because there ain’t no Santa.”
Despite my lingering hope, I worried it was true. I wanted her dead.
I tried to recover. “I know there’s no Santa, stupid.”
“No you didn’t, but you do now.” Her eyebrows arched up and down.
“I play along for my brother. It makes him feel good. He’s just a kid.”
“Still believe in the Easter Bunny?” she said.
“Oh crap, him too?” I thought, then said, “No, of course not.”
I never realized until that moment how much detail there was on the stone blocks lining the underpasses through Central Park. The road was twisted and bumpy. My forehead banged repeatedly against the window’s glass. It felt good. It took my mind off the other pain. Silently staring out, I saw the glitter of the granite and the chiseled cuts where they sliced the stone to make the blocks. I imagined Deborah’s head being dragged across that rock as we drove back and forth through the park. Kaput!
“Johnny, leave us off on the near corner of 86th Street and Central Park West.” Dad’s voice broke my dream of vengeance.
The driver aimed for the curb. The air was frigid. I barely noticed. Normally, I would’ve run ahead toward the action, but my heart remained behind on the cab’s pull-up seat. I took Dad’s hand, even though I didn’t feel like a little boy anymore. We walked south to 77th Street in formation. Dad squeezed my hand. I weakly squeezed back.
“I don’t think we’re staying too long,” Dad said to Richie. “I think Tommy’s got something, too.”
We stood inside the park’s wall on the rocks. This allowed us to see the parade over the sidewalk crowd.  Only because Dad announced the balloon names as they passed by, do I remember they included Underdog, Popeye, and Bullwinkle J. Moose from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.   
Underdog Thanksgiving 1961



This is an excerpt from my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," available at Amazon and all other online booksellers. If you would like to buy a signed copy directly from me either in person or by mail - email me at tommy.pryor@gmail.com




"Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" is coming home to the old neighborhood on Thursday, December 4th for a terrific Holiday Show @ Ryans Daughter 350 East 85th Street @ 7 to 10pm. Our artists: Eric Vetter & his unplugged band, Michele Carlo, Lincoln C. Chinnery, Abbi Crutchfield, Walter Michael DeForest & Colin Dempsey. FREE show, come on down!


If you can't make Yorkville on December 4thMonday, December 1st I'm be telling a story in the East Village at We Three Productions Reading at 2A, 25 Ave A @ 2nd St. - Upstairs ~ FREE  



Tuesday, December 9th we have our next monthly "Stoops to Nuts" storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe with with these fine artists: Muneesh Jain; Margarita Pracatan; Elizabeth Rowe; Jeff Rose

Monday, November 24, 2014

As Good As It Gets

with Prof. Robert White @ Hunter College, December 2010
My favorite teacher of all-time, Professor Robert White from Hunter College showed up unannounced at my Barnes & Noble event on Oct 17th.  I let out a high pitch yelp when I saw him from the podium. It was the second time I had seen Prof. White in 37 years (we briefly met at Hunter in 2010).

As lucky as I am to have Robert Lipsyte, Kevin Baker, Dave Hill, Barbara Turner & Thomas Beller say nice things about the book, and to have 35 five star reviews on Amazon, nothing makes me grin like the email I received from Professor White today.


Dr. Robert White to tp:


Dear Tom,

I will start this e-mail by telling you how much I enjoyed your Barnes & Noble reading. You were terrific. But as wonderful as that evening was, it paled before the pure joy I received from actually reading your book. It was wonderful to recall Rheingold beer (I still remember casting countless ballots for Miss Rheingold, in the grocery store rather than in a bar, as well as all the winners from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties), the Miss Subways, Horn and Hardart mac and cheese (which my family consumed every meatless Friday night), Spaldeens, and Brylcreem (a tube of which I kept next to my tube of Colgate until one evening in 1959 when I had a date and, in my haste to get ready, I grabbed the wrong one--Brylcreem on your teeth is disgusting beyond belief). Since I went to Regis High School from 1953 to 1957, I remember with fondness that strange orange drink they served at the Nedicks near the 86th Street Lexington Avenue No. 6 subway line, the Loew's Orpheum, and the RKO. My father, who boxed in the Golden Gloves, never missed Friday Night at the Fights unless he was playing pinochle with his buddies. I haven't thought about that for years.

I, too, had a Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist dummy. It was amazing how many of them were in American households from the early 50s on. But enough about me. Let me tell you my favorite chapters. I found "The Third Beer" and the account of your meeting with Luis Arroyo extremely moving, as I did the Sparky Lyle "Back in the Bullpen" chapter. It was fun to read "The Headlock That Won for the Giants" after hearing your reading of it at Barnes & Noble. "Beans in My Pocket" was a blast. My other favorite chapters (and, as you can tell, there were many of them) were "Trading Cards," especially your encounter with Carl Yastrzemski, since it justified the inordinate pleasure I derived from Derek Jeter's passing him in the 3000-hit club, "The Holy Cart" and "My First Area Rug," from which I gained an insight into your entrepreneurial side, "A Valentine for Nan" (remind me to tell you of the fight I had with Jackie Whittle which landed me in the hospital with a severed tendon when I was 13 years old), "His Master's Voice," and my two absolute favorites--"The Playtex Chapel" and "Mamma Mia."

"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys" has everything--humor, nostalgia, love. Thank you for writing this excellent book.

Fondly, Bob White



**************************************



Thank you, to everyone who's left a comment at Amazon on the book, I deeply appreciate your time and thoughts. If you have read the book or will read the book and have not left a comment it would mean much to me if you do, just a few honest words. hugs, tommy



*************************************


"Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" is coming home to the old neighborhood on Thursday, December 4th for a terrific Holiday Show @ Ryans Daughter 350 East 85th Street @ 7 to 10pm. Our artists: Eric Vetter & his unplugged band, Michele Carlo, Lincoln C. Chinnery, Abbi Crutchfield, Walter Michael DeForest & Colin Dempsey.  FREE show, come on down!

If you can't make Yorkville on December 4th, Monday, December 1st I'm be telling a story in the East Village at We Three Productions Reading at 2A, 25 Ave A @ 2nd St. - Upstairs ~ FREE 
 
Tuesday, December 9th we have our next monthly "Stoops to Nuts" storytelling show at Cornelia Street Cafe with with these fine artists: Muneesh Jain; Margarita Pracatan; Elizabeth Rowe; Jeff Rose


Reviews on the book:

“Thomas R. Pryor has written a sweet, funny, loving memoir of growing up old-school in a colorful New York neighborhood. A story of sports, family, and boyhood, you’ll be able to all but taste, smell, and feel this vanished world.” 
 —Kevin Baker, author of the novels Dreamland, Paradise Alley, and Strivers Row


“Tommy Pryor’s New York boyhood…was the mid-century coming of age of all of us. A rousing read.” 
—Robert Lipsyte, author and former city and sports columnist, The New York Times


“Pryor could take a felt hat and make it funny.” 
—Barbara Turner-Vesselago, author of Writing Without A Parachute: The Art of Freefall


“Pryor burrows into the terrain of his childhood with a longing and obsessiveness so powerful it feels like you are reading a memoir about his first great love.” 
—Thomas Beller, author of J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist


“I wasn’t alive for the New York Thomas Pryor writes about, but thanks to his brilliant, honest, and hilarious book, I feel like I was there.” 
—Dave Hill, comedian and author of Tasteful Nudes

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tales of a Scrappy New York Boyhood ~ On the Radio Tonight @ 6pm & 9pm

I'm rocking twice on the radio tonight.

Tonight @ 6pm on The Healing Artist - Internet Radio Show we're talking about The Pineapple Bowl aka 1973-1974 Yorkville Football Championship at The Asphalt Plant. At 9pm on Mia's World we're talking about the after party at the 80th Street Yorkville Bowling Alley.

Listen in live at 6pm and 9pm on City Wide Radio.

I believe my new book, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys tales of a scrappy New York boyhood" will come up in the conversations.

Read a good review from examiner.com on the book here.






Monday, November 17, 2014

Strong Winning Review for the Book From Examiner.com

Examiner.com reviewed my book and gave it a strong thumbs up.



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.