Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Ralph Kramden Collection

I present the bedroom dresser from our Ralph Kramden Collection.

Forget Ethan Allen, Elite Home or Modani. Chauncey Street furniture is a must.

When my grandmother kicked the bucket, I inherited her dressers & twenty three scissors. Don't ask.

I'm considering selling one of two dressers because someone stole three weeks of wash yesterday when I left them in the dryer over night.

I have fewer clothes to put away. What can you do?

So stay tune for word on the sale. The dresser? It's a beaut.

On January 26th @2pm 
and January 30th @5:30pm 
I have two shows on neighborhood history back to 1896 at the Yorkville Library, 222 East 79th Street.  Hope you can make it.

My book has 128 five star Amazon reviews out of 128 reviews. "I Hate The Dallas Cowboys" on Kindle for $9.95.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"It's Not A Blouse!"

It's a rainy Sunday. Thinking of St. Stephen of Hungary in 1964. Here's an altar boy story that worked it's way into my Yorkville memoir. The book is available at Amazon on Kindle $9.95 and hard copy $17.95. "I Hate The Dallas Cowboys ~ tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." Also available at Logos Bookstore 1575 York Avenue.

“Bob, I need more house money,” Mom said.
“Why?” Dad asked.
“To clean Tommy’s surplices.”
“His what?” Dad said, frantically looking for his keys and belt.
“Surplices… the thing he wears serving mass?”
“Oh, you mean the blouses?”
I cringed. My brother, Rory, laughed.
“They’re not blouses.” Mom gave me a supportive look. We exchanged foolish smiles.
“They sure look like blouses. Cleaning blouses is a house expense. It should come out of your house money.”
Dad wasn’t keen about my altar boy and choir duties. He told Mom that the whole thing was a little odd.
“They’re not blouses, but if they were, that’s not the issue. You haven’t put a dime more into house expenses in the last three years.” Mom shook her head and added, “If you decided to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day instead of three, wouldn’t that change how much money you spend on cigarettes?”
“Your point?” Dad had never seen me serve mass or sing in the choir. I never saw him in church outside of Rory and my first communions and confirmations.
After a deep breathe and exhale, Mom continued, “If Tommy needed a new baseball glove would you buy it for him?”
“Why? What happened to his old one?” Dad ran out the door, late for work with his belt rolled up in his hand.
Every time I walked in with a dirty surplice Mom’s face dropped. I’m sure she was thinking about my father’s brick skull. The pressure was on me to keep them clean. If they didn’t pass Brother Albert’s muster he’d send it back home and Mom would have a fit over the embarrassment and having to spend another 35 cents.
Mom heard me muttering, “They’re not blouses,” and said to me, “Surplices, surplices, why don’t you bring the cassocks home? At least we could have some fun with them. I could wear it to a costume party and go as Hop-Sing, the Cartwright’s cook on Bonanza.”
Nobody made me do it. I wanted to do it. Being an altar boy allowed me to work on my balance sheet, same as being in the choir and being a boy scout or a crossing guard, all helped offset my idiot streak. I knew I was going to be bad and needed some gains for a spiritual offset. There was a chance I was going to Hell. Sister Lorraine and Mrs. Francis told me that all the time. I needed to change my salvation ticket to Purgatory, or better yet, Limbo for a heatless stay. I had an incurable addiction for creating chaos tied to an affection for deception. A certain level of sneakiness was encouraged by the older boys and led to their grudging admiration if I pulled off a good one and got away with it. I couldn’t resist the excitement of doing something sneaky and sometimes I was compelled to let it all out at once. I was also trying to perfect my faith in the mysteries and rituals of the Mass. I wanted it all to be true. But I couldn’t resist trouble, even while wearing my surplice.
Friday night, Rory and I went up to Woolworth’s Five & Ten on 86th Street to look over the record albums. Mom gave us a buck each for pizza and we had to be home by nine. I didn’t mind because I wanted to make sure I was asleep before Dad got home, there was a good shot he was going to be tight. He was, and the TV was loud while he cooked spaghetti and boiled a few eggs to put on top. Eventually, I dropped off to sleep smelling cigarettes, Ronzoni #9, butter, eggs and grated Parmesan.
The next morning, I was bushed and had to serve a ten o’clock funeral. Funerals were boring. I rarely got a tip and there were no friends in the church to torture me. This one started late, the hearse had a flat. To kill time, Smithy and I heard each other’s contrition in the shadowy confessional booth.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I killed my nun, kicked my father in the ass, and knocked over Joe’s Candy Store,” I confessed.
Smithy gave me absolution, “You are forgiven, my son. For penance, say three Hail Mary’s and sneeze five times in your grandmother’s hankie.”
Brother Albert gave out the altar boy assignments the day before. I ran the freshly inked mimeograph sheet across my nose making myself light-headed, then I quickly scanned the light purple print looking for my name, praying I’d see it next to a wedding, and dreading I’d instead see it next to a early morning mass (the only plus for doing the early mass was the chance to see and get a smile from Don Ameche, a St. Stephen’s regular, and the man who invented the telephone in the movies).   Older brown-nosers did best, young wise guys did worst. Most of my assignments were early, or the all-time worst assignment: the 10 o’clock mass on Sunday in Hungarian. What the hell were they saying?
This was Father Emeric’s mass: he was a nice guy, but once he got in his Hungarian groove, English flew out the window. He only spoke Hungarian before, after and during the mass and he’d forget I knew zip and give me directions in Hungarian on the altar and I’d stare at him waiting for sign language or his miraculous recovery back into English. Usually a pointed finger and head nod ended the business. It was a long event, everyone drunk on nationalism, the crowd way too happy for my taste and I didn’t have a clue what anyone was saying. I memorized the steps of the mass, so I could usually follow Father Emeric’s non-verbal cues. But based on our latest schedule, no weddings for me, I was funeral bound.
After our phony confession, I ran straight into the sacristy to change without realizing I had to go badly. I had no time to leave and there was no bathroom. As I buttoned up my cassock from my neck to my feet, I checked the door and the passageway. The coast was clear and I peed into the slop sink.
A voice startled me. I quickly put myself away. I turned to face mister goody two shoes, Steve Nemeth, an eighth grade pain in the ass on his way to a career as a priest or a prison guard. He hadn’t decided yet.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
“You will burn in hell for urinating in God’s house.”
Anything I said going forward was useless.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”
I held my ground, said nothing and washed my hands.
“With soap, lots of soap, you must not soil the Lord’s vessels.”
I held my hands up, showed Nemeth they were clean, and gave him the finger when he turned around.
After the funeral, I ran home to change. Dad was getting up and I asked him if he wanted to go for a bike ride. He said no, but how about a catch?  I waited for him on the stoop, throwing the Spaldeen against a car to kill time. Walking over to Loftus Tavern along York Avenue we talked.
“Tommy, why are you in the choir?”
“I like to sing.”
“I’ve never heard you sing except through the door of the bathroom.”
“I only do it in crowds.”
Dad gave me his “I can’t figure you out” look, and then he walked across 85th Street to the other side. We threw the ball back and forth over the cars for an hour, then I went down to the park and Dad went inside the bar.
There was an Easter Vigil that night with a full mass. All the kids in school were encouraged to go because the second graders making their first holy communion were coming in their new blue suits and ruffled white dresses and the nuns wanted us to support them. Most of my friends turned this into a social event and it gave us a destination to get out of the chilly April rain. The church was packed and there was no room to sit, so we stood in the back, avoiding the ushers trying to shove us in to a pew.
Twice during the mass, everyone in church, including people standing in the back, had to kneel on at least one knee. Sometimes, there were as many as a dozen kids kneeling lined up in a row. They moaned and complained, moving from one knee to the other on the cold marble floor until it was time to stand again. Depending on which knee each kid knelt, with the right force I could knock them all over with one good shove. That night, I saw a long line and most of them were on their right knee. I knew, without their left knee down ready to brace and resist, they were mine. I moved three steps away from the first kneeler and ran back into him as hard as I could. Then I started counting the tumblers. That’s Church Bowling! The record was thirteen down. I never made it past nine. I wasn’t hung up on the record. I loved listening to the grunts and groans as each kid hit another.
“Ugh!” “Ooooh!” “Hey!” “No!” Grrrhh!”
The beautiful ballet: body after body going down in sequence made my heart bounce. It was important to act detached after the assault to deter detection. I got lost. Smithy later confirmed my score for the frame was eight.
The next morning was Easter. Somebody got sick and I ended up getting the juicy nine o’clock children’s mass. Full House! Everybody was there and I loved playing my role in the ancient ceremonies and rituals. I was lousy at magic and card tricks but admired the talent. On the altar, I was in the vicinity of two miracles when the priest changed the host and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but I did have one trick of my own and I saved it for special occasions.
Twice during the mass an altar boy rang heavy gold plated bells. There were five big bells with a large screwed on handle. Each priest had different bell preferences. Some liked snappy hard rings, others favored softer tolling. Text Box: Tom & Fr. Benedict Dudley, N.Y. Giants ChaplainToward the end of my mass, I worked the bells’ handle screw down to half a turn and left it there. I hung around the back of the church and waited for the ten o’clock Hungarian mass. When it started, I saw the altar boy on bell duty was my personal Satan, Steve Nemeth.
Here’s where the priest’s individual ringing preference made a world of difference in the quality of my trick. If the priest enjoyed a short solemn ring, the bells whacked the side of the altar, a mere accident. “Oops! Sorry.” But if the priest loved loud tolling, “Hosannas in the Highest,” the altar boy would lift the bells to the sky like the town crier and on his first whip back toward his shoulder the bells would fly off the altar and torpedo toward the pews. “Incoming!” The old ladies would duck like the players who stood too close to the cage during batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, Father Emeric, a quiet man, preferred light action. Nemeth shook the bells. They pulled away, leaving him holding the handle as the five chimes rolled across the altar coming to a rest next to the pulpit.
I felt delightful leaving the scene, but Brother Albert cornered me coming through the girl’s church entrance. This was forbidden.
“Thomas, how are you this morning?”
“I’m fine, Brother.”
“Good, very good. I need a favor. Go to the store and pick up a dozen roses. Here’s two dollars.”
I figured I got off easy, and asked Brother Albert to hold my surplice. He made a face and took the hanger and I walked to the florist on 84th Street and First Avenue. Mickey was taking care of a customer when I walked in. “Tommy, be with you in five minutes.”
Mrs. Sweeney was buying a tombstone floral arrangement for a visit to her parents’ grave later that morning. She planned to take the Grand Central instead of the Long Island Expressway based on Mickey’s suggestion. Mrs. Sweeney’s back had been acting up, and she wasn’t as young as she used to be and felt old.
“Oh, no you’re not,” said Mickey.
“I’m old.” Mrs. Sweeney answered, while tossing her wavy hair around.
“Your legs say otherwise,” Mickey smiled.
I learned all of this while a five-minute wait drifted into 15 minutes. The Grand Central was smart, but as to Mrs. Sweeney’s age, Mickey needed glasses; my eyes saw a 35 year old, lumpy, over-the-hill mother of three.
Completing the sale and the long goodbye (I thought they’d kiss). Mickey came over to me and began making small talk, “So how is your grandmother? Is she running for re-election this year?”
“Yes, she is,” I said with a forced smile. Nan was the local Democratic District Leader. All my comings and goings got reported back to her faster than jungle drums. I was doomed to be good.

“Mickey, Brother Albert said he needs a dozen roses pronto. Here’s two dollars.”
“That’s odd, it’s Easter, no weddings, no funerals… and two dollars is not enough anyway for really nice roses. OK, I’ll get the flowers and I’ll put it on the Church’s tab.”
I was frantic; more than 25 minutes for a two-block errand. I was dead. I ran like a madman, turned down the block, and saw Brother Albert standing under the massive St. Stephen of Hungary cross. Arms folded tightly, his brown leather sandal was tapping the concrete pavement as I ran toward him.
“Where have you been and what are those?”
“I went to Mickey’s. Here’s your roses.”
I passed the flowers to Brother Albert and his face twisted like the bouquet was a baby with a stinky diaper.
“Roses? Roses? Pastor Dudley and three angry priests with cold coffee are waiting for their bakery rolls upstairs. Roses! My God! Here take your blouse.”
 “It’s not a blouse!”
When I got home, Dad was alone at the kitchen table eating a bowl of corn flakes. Mom and Rory had already left the house to go help Nan Ryan with Easter dinner.
“I saw you in church last night,” Dad said.
“Huh?” I said, stunned.
“We ate out at the Silver Moon. On our way over to Second Avenue, Mom said, “let’s pop in to church,” so we did. We figured you’d be up in the choir; I looked up there, but didn’t see you. Then, I saw you standing in the back with your friends. Why weren’t you singing?”
I sighed with relief; he obviously missed the Church Bowling match.
“I was late and the nun doesn’t let you sing if you’re not on time.”
“Choir sounded nice,” Dad said, and put his spoon down and asked, “How many girls are in the choir?”
“How many boys?”
Dad smiled, picked up his spoon and swept it through his bowl.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"When The Fire Hydrant Was The End Zone"

What? Jints score 40 points?

Is Barkley #26 the best nyg back ever after twelve pro games?

Here's my New York Times story, "When The Fire Hydrant Was The End Zone." It will take you back to New York City street life when a football and a few friends could fill your day, any month of the year. ps east side of York Ave 81st to 82st was our field.

Steve Murphy’s living room was a harsh turf. There was no rug, only a slice of cold linoleum glued to a concrete floor — hard as Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers’ tundra, on an icy afternoon. We wore elbow pads and kneepads and kept the windows wide open to minimize the chances of breaking one. When the football sailed through one after a bad throw, it was a beautiful thing to watch — the spiraling ball taking a sweet, long ride. We’d hang from the second story windowsill and slip down to the street to get the ball. It was just another play.
We got away with it because Mr. and Mrs. Murphy never got home before 6. Besides, where else could we go? We had no backyards, and it was the 1960s in New York City — we were barely allowed to ride the subways by ourselves, and grass fields were scarce. But I loved the sport. I carried my football everywhere, just in case anyone wanted to play catch. I slept with it to prevent fumbling. And even more important, I loved the New York Giants. The “ny” on their helmets was tattooed on my heart. It’s no wonder that — 35 years after the team moved to the Meadowlands in New Jersey — they’re still called the New York Giants.
Back then, in an attempt to boost ticket sales, local TV stations didn’t carry their home games. My dad usually went to Connecticut with a gang of friends and watched the game in a motel room. I had to follow it on the radio. Sometimes he scammed a ticket, and I would beg him to get me one, and he promised he would, someday, when I was older. I used to dream — literally — that an angel would blow through my window and fly me to Yankee Stadium, where they played then. But it never happened.
Instead I spent afternoons turning my knees black and blue on Mrs. Murphy’s linoleum, until the afternoon Mr. Peters — Artie and Jamie’s dad — overheard us talking about a game. 
“You play tackle in the Murphys’ living room?” Mr. Peters asked. “Does the old man know?”
Jamie laughed so hard, soda came out his nose.
“Are you kidding?” Artie said.
“Do you want to play here? Wall- to-wall carpeting?” Mr. Peters said, waggling his thick eyebrows up and down.
I couldn’t believe it. “Absolutely,” I said.
Artie shot me a look and asked “What about Mom?”

“Mmmm … The Missus? The Missus? The Missus will be a problem.” He drummed a finger across the cleft of his chin. “She hits the stores on Saturday — hairdresser, Woolworth’s, Schaller & Weber, the A&P and the Chinese laundry. She’s gone at least three hours, sometimes four. I guarantee three hours. I’ll referee. We’ll put the entertainment center face down on my bed. We’ll move the couches to the kitchen. Everyone wears socks with no shoes, no sneakers. You’ll all wear gloves on your hands to minimize scuffing the walls.”

“Dad, you’re getting carried away, we don’t need gloves,” Artie said.
“She’ll catch the marks on the wall before she steps through the door. We’ll be dead,” Mr. Peters said.
Artie pointed out that with gloves, no one would be able to catch the ball. “We’ll hang bedsheets over the walls with masking tape,” he said.
Mr. Peters smiled proudly. “That’s my boy!”

I was in the Twilight Zone. My dad tried to outwit my mother every day, but that was on his own behalf. I’d never seen an inside job, where one parent helped the kids gang up on the other. I understood the gravity and prayed for Mr. Peters’ soul.

For two months, all went well. Then, one Saturday, we were in the middle of a goal line stance. As the play started, the front door burst open. Mrs. Peters was back early. Jamie picked up the needed yards on a right end sweep and dove over two defenders, passing within inches of his mother’s head. She screamed at Mr. Peters until his arms hung slack at his sides. The beating was brutal and a double loss because big mouth Steve had told his parents about our game after we moved it to the Peterses’.

Everything on the sidewalk was in bounds: fire hydrants, trees, phone booths. We did our best to accommodate pedestrians, but if the game was tight, we’d use a lady carrying a few brown bags as a blocker.

Dejected and out of a playing field again, we sat on parked cars on the street.
“What’s the difference between linoleum and sidewalk concrete?” Steve finally asked.
“Let me cut a sample from each and smack you in the head,” Artie said.
“Really, if we load up on sweatshirts, put a few pair of shorts over our dungarees and wear pads, do you think it’s any worse than the linoleum?”

And that was how York Avenue from 81st to 82nd Street became our new football field. Everything on the sidewalk was in bounds: fire hydrants, trees, phone booths, mailboxes, light poles, signs and meters. We did our best to accommodate pedestrians, but if the game was tight, we’d use a lady carrying a few brown bags as a blocker.
looking up at the sky on the 50 yd line of our York Ave. field

In 1967, the neighborhood’s church parishes formed a tackle football league for boys 13 and up. Our sidewalk game faded away. My new team’s home field was the dustbowl just inside Central Park at 97th Street and Fifth Avenue. Dad never missed a game. Walking home one day, I popped the question.

“Dad, will I ever get to a Giants home game?”

He took a while to answer, but when he did, he told me about five regulars at Loftus Tavern. I knew Loftus. I could have entered it blindfolded, walked to the back of the bar and put a dime in the jukebox without bumping into a stool.

“Well,” he said, “these regulars kept their tickets under the bar’s register, and sometimes one of those guys don’t feel too well on Sunday morning, and Jack gets a call. Then somebody else gets a call, and that person gets to go to the game.”
He told me to go down to the bar around 11 on Sunday, tap on the back door’s window and see what happened.
The next Sunday, the Giants were playing the New Orleans Saints at Yankee Stadium. At 11 sharp, I tapped on the window. Jack, the Irish owner, took his reading glasses off, saw me and came to the door.
“Good morning, Tommy, how are you?”
“Fine, Jack, just great.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Could I come in?”
“Well, the cops will have my license if I serve you a drink before 12, but a Coke won’t harm anybody.”
I hopped on a stool. Jack dropped two maraschino cherries in my glass.
“Jack, were all the guys here last night?”
“What guys?”
“The guys who go to the game with you?”
“Yes, everyone made an appearance. Chris and Orson were the last two out the door.”
“Did either of them look sick or anything?”
“Well, neither one looks that good to start with, but Orson, he made a couple of passes at the coat rack on his way out.”
I wiped my face with my hand and opened the newspaper. The phone rang. I nearly fell backward off the stool. I crossed my fingers under the bar.
“Hello Mikey, how are you?”
I unclenched. It was Jack’s brother. He had season tickets, too. He owned a bar in Sunnyside.
Jack hung up, saw my face and said, “Cheer up, lad. It’s only 11:30. Game starts at 12:35. There’s still plenty of time.”
He knew why I was there. Dad and Jack were in cahoots.
At 5 to 12, the phone rang again. I held my breath.

“Oh, Orson, I’m sorry to hear that. You seemed a wee down last night. Probably the flu. Tommy Pryor’s here, do you mind if I give him your ticket?”

My heart was ripping a hole through my chest. Jack hung the phone up and slid his gigantic hand under the register, pulled out five red tickets and held them up like a winning hand of cards.

“Do you want to wait for the other guys and we’ll pile into a Checker together?”

I told him no thanks. I wanted to get up there and sit in the crowd as the place filled up. Twenty-five minutes later, I was looking down on the field, watching my favorite players warm up — Joe Morrison, Tucker Frederickson, Ernie Koy and Spider Lockhart. I memorized the ticket stub. Mezzanine, Section 18, Box 56B, Seat 5.
my stub from that game

Check out my 1960s memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." at Logos Book Store or online at Amazon, hard copy or Kindle,  (128 five-star reviews out of 128 posted) "River to River ~ New York Scenes From a Bicycle," my photography portfolio is also available online.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Secret Hiding In Central Park

Walking towards the Westside this morning, I eyed one of my favorite New York relics. Before Central Park was built there was a Receiving Reservoir that sat between 79th and 86th streets and Sixth and Seventh Avenues. It was built in 1842. Locally, It became known as the Yorkville Reservoir. If you walk past the Police Pct. along the south side of 84th/85th St Transverse, look at the rough rock at the base of the building's wall. These stones were part of the old Yorkville Reservoir. In 1936 Robert Moses filled the space in. Today it's the Great Lawn - Central Park.

More public photos here.

If you like tales of old New York, it's for you, promise.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Over The River & Through The Potatoes

Around one o’clock on the same day that Deborah spilled the beans about Santa and the Easter Bunny, Dad and I arrived at his family’s apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad’s mom and his stepdad, John Rode (also called Nan and Pop, just like our other grandparents) always cooked our bird. Mom’s parents did the Easter lamb roast. At the kitchen table, Mom and Nan Rode were snapping the ends off a few pounds of string beans and throwing them into a spaghetti pot. Rory and Pop were in the living room watching Babes in Toyland, starring Laurel and Hardy.
“Hi, all,” Dad said. “I thought we were eating at one?”
“The bird’s got a way to go – maybe another hour,” Nan said.
Mom gave Dad a silent “No way.”
Dad went over to the oven and opened the front.
“Jesus Christ, who are you feeding?”
“Shut your mouth,” Nan said.
“That prehistoric beast is the same size as Rory,” Dad said.
“Mind your business.”
“Did the tribe bring him down with a spear or a net?” Dad said.
Mom whispered to me, “Rory is smaller.”
“We’ll eat tomorrow,” Dad said.
“Another hour -- go inside and be useful,” Nan said, waving Dad away. “Get two folding chairs and bring me my bag. I forgot something and need you to go to the store.”

Dad eyed me up and down. He wanted to send me to the store but he thought I was getting sick. Resigned, he exhaled loudly, ensuring that everyone in the balcony knew he was leaving the stage.

I was glum after my encounter with Deborah, but being at Nan’s was cheering me up. Everything was big. She was big. Pop was big. The coffee cups were big. At her house, I could drink anything I wanted when I wanted.

Dad returned from the front room to the kitchen with Nan’s pocketbook. I could see his arm muscles working hard, lifting the heavy bag.

“Here you go. What do you need?” Dad said.
“Go down to Parker’s and get me a pound of butter.”
Dad walked to the fridge, opened the door and stuck his head in it. “You have a full pound.”
“I need six sticks for the mashed potatoes.”
“We’re six people! That’s a quarter pound of butter per person. Are you trying to stop our hearts with a single meal?”

“I’m making mashed potatoes for the week and it’s none of your business. Get the butter.”

“And the thirty-pound bird? I suppose that’s part of your long-term meal plan?”

“Don’t exaggerate. It’s twenty-six pounds.”

“Oh, only twenty-six pounds. Let’s see, at more than four pounds per person that should cover our meat provision on our Easter Island sea voyage.”

I was curious: Would Nan slap him or not? I was pulling for a slap. She seemed real close. Instead, she stared him down. He wisely took the money and went to the grocery store.

About an hour after his return he said to Nan, “I’m starving. How much longer?”
“I’ll take a look.”

I watched through the doorway. Nan opened the oven and took the turkey out, firmly hanging on to both pan handles. From behind, she looked like a Russian Olympic weightlifter. She placed the pan on the counter and checked the thermometer. Dad was right behind her.

“What does it say?” Dad said.
“135 degrees,” Nan said.
“Forget it, put it back in.”
“No, it’s done.”
“You’re nuts.”
“It’s fine. Look.”

Nan sliced into the meat. It was pink as a flower.

“Meat is supposed to be 175 degrees before you eat it,” Dad said. “That bird just stopped breathing.”

“That’s it, let’s go,” Nan said and moved the enormous pan toward the table. Dad met her halfway and began guiding her back toward the oven. They both had their hands on the pan’s small handles.

A turkey dance!
“Give it to me,” Dad said.
“Leave me alone,” Nan said. “Start mashing the potatoes.”
“Give it to me!”
He tugged. She tugged. The pan didn’t know what to do.
So it flipped over. The bird leaped to its death with all its natural juices, landing on Dad’s new dress shoes with the little pinholes all over the leather. Stunned, Nan and Dad stared down at the linoleum and the bird for a long time. Nan spoke first. 
“Ah shit, I’m lying down.” And she did.

She passed through the living room. I was frozen in the doorway and Pop had Rory on his lap. They watched like two largemouth bass. Then Mom joined Rory watching TV and Pop went to the kitchen and began to help Dad. They put the bird back in the pan with a couple of cups of water to replace the lost gravy. Then they put the pan back in the oven. Dad’s clothes were splattered with turkey juice, so Pop gave him one of his extra-large T-shirts. None of Pop’s pants fit Dad, so he gave Dad a pair of boxer shorts. Dad wore Pop’s boxers over his own boxers – all in all a nice picture with his dark socks and skinny legs. I saw Mom peek in and start to laugh.

Sometime much later, Pop announced, “OK, everything is ready.”

He went into the front room and brought Nan back. She returned to the kitchen and took over as if nothing had happened.

“Bob, carve the meat.”

Dad grabbed the knife and did as he was told. This relieved everyone. The table comfortably sat six people yet with the large amount of food on it, it was hard to see each other. Everyone was scary polite. Late in the meal, Dad looked at the bucket of mashed potatoes and said, “You know from this angle, I believe I can see a couple of goats circling the top of Potato Mountain.”

We all laughed except Nan. But she didn’t hit him. The storm passed and Rory and I started looking forward to our favorite Thanksgiving ritual – Pop watching. He was a gentle bear and never yelled at us. After the meal, he drank two short glasses of Ballantine Ale, wiped his mouth carefully with his linen napkin, and said, “Thank you, and excuse me.”
He lifted himself from the table, and walked from his kitchen chair to his living room chair. Once Rory and I heard “Swoosh,” Pop’s bottom sinking into the plastic, we started counting backward, “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…”
We peeked into the living room. Pop was asleep. Rory and I stared at him.
Then a cartoon came on about two poor kids who go to bed with nothing to eat. They dream, people come and bring them goodies, and music starts to play. Rory and I stood behind Pop’s chair on each side of his head and sang quietly into his ears along with the cartoon song:
Meet me tonight in dreamland, under the silvery moon.
Meet me tonight in dreamland, where love’s sweet roses bloom.
Come with the love light gleaming, in your dear eyes of blue.
Meet me in dreamland, sweet dreamy dreamland,
There let my dreams come true.

Our singing didn’t wake him. Pop had a stretched-out snore with three different sounds. And Nan had a toy piano with eight color-coded keys. You could play a full octave of tones. The piano came with a color-coded music book with classics like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “Roll Out the Barrel,” and “This Old Man.” Rory was pretty good on the thing – he played “Jingle Bells” with ease – and soon he went over to it. In between Pop’s snores he’d hit a key. He played around a bit until he located a couple of notes that harmonized with Pop’s snoring. Not wanting to be left out, and not having Rory’s natural musical talent, I improvised. Nan’s toilet door made a creaking sound, so I opened it a smidge to see if I could somehow join the band. I found a funky “eek” noise and added it to the mix. Leaning over, looking back into the living room, I could see Rory. Once we made eye contact, it was easy to find our rhythm. We riffed, “Snore, piano key, eek; snore, piano key, eek.”

“Our song had a hook,” as Dad liked to say. Mom, who had moved into the kitchen, threw a sponge at my head. I ducked. The band played on. Sponge two was in the air. I avoided it by doing the cha-cha.

“I will kill you both,” she said. “Keep it up, I’ll kill you both.”

Noticing Mom had run out of sponges, and the next airborne item could be a spoon or fork, Rory and I left the airwaves. Dad moved to the sink area to join Mom. I sat on the washing machine right next to them. Mom picked up a dish and started scrubbing. Dad squeezed too much dish soap into the water, and then started playing with the faucet’s screws.

“Let’s get this over with,” Mom said. “You’re moping.”

“Not true, the secret is a long hot soak,” Dad said. “Then the grease slides itself off.” He continued to play with the faucet.

“The secret is you’re full of shit and have a bony ass,” Mom said.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

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.
“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.

“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