Friday, May 24, 2019

Rocky Colavito Batting Practice Wake-up Call

54 years ago today... 

Sitting on the 500 East 86th Street stoop itching my ass next to Leda Pharmacy, I hopped off to greet my father coming home from work on the crosstown bus."Come on, Dad, Lets' go."It was five forty-five on May 24, 1965. Late spring, warm enough in the evening, to sit in the stands wearing only a sweatshirt.
The previous Saturday night, Dad and I watched a Yankee game on our tenement roof using every extension cord in the house. 

"You're both nuts," Mom said to Dad's ass as he climbed out our fourth floor window onto the fire escape with the cords. Once we settled in on the roof with kitchen chairs, a card table for the TV and a spaghetti pot full of ice, beer and ice tea, 

Dad said to me, "

We got to get up to the Stadium for a game before they go on the road." 

The game start was 8pm.

Dad called Mom, who was not thrilled, it was a school night, and he and I jumped into a Checker cab in front of the Mansion Diner and shot up the FDR. At the Stadium, Dad bought lower box reserved seats in section 17, half way between the Yankee dugout and the right field foul pole. I still have the stub. 

Dad wrote in the line-ups while I bounced my eyes around the mostly empty ballpark. I smelled cigars, peanuts, and freshly cut grass. This was when I liked the old Stadium best. Just the ballplayers on the field and us, real fans, in the stands. You practically had a whole section to yourself, if you didn't count the hundred kids assembled in right or left field waiting anxiously for imminent home runs, depending on whether the batter was left handed or right handed. The gaggle of kids would travel all away around the ballpark to the other side of the field to get in position for a lefty or righty during batting practice. Watching them run was like a Peanuts cartoon soccer game. Dad wasn't nuts about me being in that group yet,"when you're a little older," he wouldn't let me go by myself, and hated flying around with me, "Let's stay here, this way, if the ball comes this way, you'll have it all to yourself."

There was no sense arguing with the man, so I focused on the good. With so few people around us, I could hear the ballplayers yell at each other as they played pepper and threw it around the outfield. I got an idea who like each other, and who tortured each other.
The Indians were finishing their batting practice. Leon Wagner, a lefty, pounded three pitches into the right field stands. My heart dropped missing the action. I knew the home run derby was going to continue in left field. Rocky Colavito was coming around the cage to take his at bat.
I mumbled, "Why'd I bring my glove," and slumped in my chair.
Dad looked over at me."Tommy, I did the Indians. Why don't you do the Yankee lineup?"

When I reached for the program, I heard solid bat contact, then Dad took my head and pulled it towards his chest hard.


I turned and saw a broken slat on the top of my chair. Colavito had sliced a foul that split my wooden seat. Dad and I stared at it forever, then I began looking for the piece of wood that broke off, a valuable souvenir, Dad grabbed me, picked up our things and we headed out to the right field box seats.

All future batting practices were viewed in the bleachers, outfield or behind the plate. Colavito already a secret Non-Yankee hero of mine ~ he hit four homers in a game in 1959 and looked like my Dad ~ became my favorite all time non-Yankee player.

Stottlemyre pitched well and went the distance. Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone hit homers. 

Yankees won 15-5.

If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble or other booksellers. The book has 130 five star reviews out of 130 total reviews on Amazon. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon and B&N. 
Thank you!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Two Guys Talking On The Corner

My favorite Dad story in my memoir was published in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.  Today he would be ninety. One big P.I.A. but I miss his intelligence, curiosity and his love for life.

Happy 90th Dad, Happy Birthday, love, Tommy

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 just started first grade, the Yankees 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." 


If you like my work check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." Available at Logos Book Store at 1575 York Avenue or online at Amazon & Barnes & Noble.

The book has 130 Amazon five star reviews out of 130 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs. You can also purchase my photography portfolio, "River to River - New York Scenes From a Bicycle" on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter"

52 years ago today, Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run,  and with my Dad I was there. At a PBS New York TV studio, I told my baseball memories in front of a camera. I forced my Dad to take me to three straight Yankee games in May 1967 after Mantle hit his 499th homer. I was going to catch number 500. The Mick was going to hit it into the right field grandstands, and that's where we sat Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. I brought my glove.

Well, he didn't hit it Friday night, and it drove my father nuts that the Yankees were down by 10 runs in the 5th, Hal Reniff gave up nine earned runs and we didn't leave. I had to see every Mick at bat. He didn't hit it Saturday either. But Sunday, God bless, Stu Miller, the Baltimore Oriole pitcher threw a meat ball to Mickey and he cracked it. That ball was coming straight to me and I could feel the hair on my father's neck stand up. I watched it rise over first base, then travel most of the outfield high as the top of the grandstands, then like a broken balloon it started to fall and fall, into the lower right field seats. My excitement slipped for a second, but Mickey hit 500! Mickey hit 500! Mickey hit 500! Dad and I hugged and cheered ourselves hoarse right through the next batter. Our legs were rocky.

After the season, I wrote Mickey the letter on this page asking for an autograph. I wrote it out once, Mom corrected it in pencil (that's this copy) then I re-wrote it, and mailed that copy with a stamped addressed envelope. 5 months later, I got a picture of Mantle with a phony signature. I traced real ink over the name and made believe he signed it.

Friday, May 10, 2019

"The Playtex Chapel"

in 2014, Sports Illustrated's Football Editor accepted my story below for their next weekly issue. His boss, the magazine's senior editor shelved it. Though it did not appear, it was an honor to be considered. If you don't believe the story, my partner Steve's two brothers are here to testify. They are still upset the girls took us around town. This is one of 53 stories in my Yorkville memoir. Thank you, Jaime, for working so hard to get the book out. You are amazing. Thank you, Adam, for inspiring me to story board the tale.

Our next "Stoops to Nuts" show at Ryan's Daughter is Saturday, June 22nd @ 7-10pm. Here is a link to the event. Your admission is up to you. We want to support our hardworking barkeep and the talent that assists Joe and I.

The Playtex Chapel

“My turn,” Steve Murphy said. We switched positions. My fingers were so cold I could’ve snapped them off. As we threw the football in front of the Laundromat on York Avenue, the store’s exhaust fan blasted hot air onto the frozen sidewalk. Every three minutes, Steve and I traded locations, planting one of us directly under the delicious steam.
Even at 13 degrees, gloves were forbidden. The leather football was expensive, the sidewalk was concrete and the street was asphalt. Dropping the ball was a criminal offense. Steve and I practically gave up playing all other sports. Year round, one of us carried a football. We took every opportunity to improve our catching skills. We were indentured servants to two older boys. They were the quarterbacks, we were their catch robots, and practice was mandatory.
The single thing that interrupted our concentration was a pretty girl. Our standards were high. Steve and I were 12 years old, experienced connoisseurs; we didn’t slow our game down for just any girl. And really, that’s all that happened, our game just slowed down. When an attractive girl walked by, we’d each give her a sturdy look. If we didn’t drop the ball, we’d exchange small nods acknowledging we were impressed with each other’s ability to do two equally important things at the same time.
The only time our game came to a halt was for two Air Canada stewardesses, Marie and Justine. They were stationed in New York on rotation. Every ten days or so, they’d do their wash in the Laundromat. Their stunning beauty, two Playboy bunnies with wings, broke up our game. Oh my God, Marie, tall and beautiful, Justine, taller and beautiful. Every time we saw them coming down the block, we’d act like two kittens hearing the can opener working a tin of “Seafood Feast.” We’d stop our catch and hold our hands up like traffic cops, signaling to the stewardesses that it was safe to pass. They smiled at us going in and coming out of the store. Each of their smiles was a body blow, a little heart attack that sent blood racing to our faces and struck our teeth into frozen grins. I fantasized about asking them if we could carry their wash, but I never worked up the guts to do it. Steve, brave and handsome, took his shot as they came out of the store one day with their collars turned up. They looked so cute that way.

“Excuse me, Miss. Can we carry your wash?”
They looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Oui,” then turned the bags over to us. I thank the Lord every day for allowing me to stand in Steve’s shadow. He was a girl magnet. I put the football in my bag and slung it over my shoulder. We strutted down the street – two sailors coming home to our best girls after a year at sea. Stopping at their building, they thanked us and tried to take the bags away. I cradled mine the way a mother holds her sickly child.
Steve blurted, “No, no, they’re too heavy. Let us take them up the stairs.”
The girls, too cold to argue, let us keep the bags, and we all climbed the five flights to their apartment. Inside the door Marie kicked off her heels and said, “J’ai très mal aux pieds.”
Justine translated for us, “Her feet are killing her.”
“Boys, merci, merci…put zee bags on floor,” said Marie.
“Want some sing to drink?” offered Justine.
“No, thanks,” said Steve. I elbowed him in the ribs.
“How about some hot chocolate?” I said, rubbing my hands together. I looked more pathetic than Jackie Cooper when he played the son of a drunken boxer in in The Champ. “Do we have un chocolat chaud?” Marie asked.
“Mais oui,” said Justine.
The ladies exchanged an, “OK, but that’s it” look.
Steve and I exchanged our own look: “Is this great or what?”
We sat down, taking off our Navy peacoats, each shy a few buttons. Justine prepared the hot chocolate and our eyes flew around the apartment. We were in heaven and wanted to remember the layout. I asked to use the bathroom.
Once in there, I saw something that made me freeze mid-pee. Hanging from the shower curtain rod were four bras. Stunned, I stood on the tub’s edge to get a better look. The bras looked like the dead cardinal hats that hang from the ceiling rafters in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I dismissed the little altar boy voice in my ear telling me, “Get down, and be good.” The bras were beautiful. The bras were white and their tags said Playtex. I touched them. I smelled them. I kissed them. I would have licked them, but when I kissed them they tasted like soap. I was hoping for girls’ boob taste – whatever that was. After a thorough investigation of every stitch on every bra, I returned to the kitchen.
“Steve, I’m done, you can go to the bathroom now.”
“I don’t have to go.”
I buried my best look in Steve’s eyes.
“Steve, you really should go. We’re going back outside and you’ll only have to go later on.”
My eyebrows worked furiously and my head tilted toward the “Hall of Bras.” Aggravated, he said, “But I don’t have…”
Looking back at me strangely, Steve limped to the bathroom. After an equally long time, Steve returned to the table with a glazed look usually reserved for seeing the face of God. Our hot chocolates went cold. The ladies reheated them. We talked; Marie and Justine were both from Montreal. They’d been working for Air Canada for two years and they loved traveling and meeting new and different people. They split the New York apartment with two other stewardesses who had alternate schedules. Their perfume tickled my nose. I think it was Cachet. I drifted away…
Marie was Miss December. Curly black hair, dark brown eyes – two Hershey kisses. She was tall and athletic. She moved the kitchen chairs around with one arm. I saw her muscles through her sheer blouse. Her dream was to own a horse farm one day. She was a centerfold and there were no staples to keep her locked inside the magazine. Her lips were perfect – pink with a trace of wetness. She made an audible pop with her lips.
Justine was Miss January, with her long blonde hair and eyes of blue. She planned to join the Peace Corps to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Justine loved relaxing at home in a man’s tailored shirt. Her eyebrows were light brown wisps, one higher than the other in the resting position. They made her look frisky: “And what do you have in mind?” Her cheeks were rosy and chubby cute – ready to store nuts for the winter. Her mouth was smaller than Marie’s. It made a perfect “O” when she enjoyed something we said. I was addicted to the “O” and worked hard to come up with clever statements to invite it out as often as possible. If the “O” had a hand, I would’ve held it.
Focusing on the girls’ voices, I became aware my ear was an instrument of pleasure. Each time one spoke, a French accent sailed through the air. Sometimes a single French word or
short phrase posed as a whole song:
“Au revoir.” “Savoir-faire.” “Adieu.”
Each syllable headed for my heart, waking up a gang of monkeys who drove a truck into my stomach where they started doing cartwheels and headstands. I tried looking thoughtful about whatever the girls were saying. I’d pretend I understood, but I barely registered a word. The siren melody took me away.
After the fastest hour in my life, Marie said, “On a sommeil. It is time to sleep. Desolée, you must go now.”
“Desolée.” I whispered the word over my tongue and around my mouth.
We both said “Bon voyage” on the way out. Steve and I punched and tackled our way down the five flights of stairs until we landed in a heap on the ground floor. Laughing our heads off, we repeated two words over and over again. “C cups, C cups, C cups...”
The next two weeks crawled. For the first time in my life, I voluntarily went to bed early to get the night over with as soon as possible.
Around the time we expected the girls to return to New York, we stood guard in front of the Laundromat. Every night, we packed food into our pockets to stave off hunger. Passing time, we counted our tosses. On the third night of our watch, I dropped the ball when I spied the girls coming up the block. We ran down to meet them and took their bags.
“How are you? Did the passengers treat you right?” we said.
They laughed and said, “Très bien.”
We knew that meant fine. We’d been studying Steve’s mother’s French-English dictionary.
From that point on, the visit’s routine was the same with one exception – we went to the bathroom twice, now that we were devoted parishioners of the Playtex Chapel. While they made hot chocolate, they asked us, “You like rock and roll and hockey?” What a question.
“Yes! Why?”
“Mon père is an NBC executive,” Marie said. “You know zee TV music show Hullabaloo? He maybe get us tickets.”
While we chewed on that, Justine told us that Reggie Fleming, a star player for the New York Rangers, was her friend. This news electrified us.
“Do you prefer Hullabaloo or a Ranger game?” they asked.
Steve and I said in unison, “Why can’t we do both?”
They said, “Magnifique!”
We all smiled.
Marie said, “Next time in New York, we go to Hullabaloo. Give me your phone numbers. I call you.”
Our plans, which now included stewardesses, Madison Square Garden and a TV show, left our parents puzzled, worried, and/or indifferent, depending on when it came up. I don’t think they believed us. Any repeated mention of the subject within earshot of my parents triggered a headshake, a face twitch or a deep dumb stare. Each night, I parked myself in front of the telephone until I was forced into bed.
“First you’re going to bed early, now you’re passing out with your hand over the phone,” Mom said as she dragged me down the hall. “Are you a prison warden expecting a call from the Governor’s office?”
After too many nights, Marie called.
“It eez set. We go to Hullabaloo at NBC studios in Brooklyn, February 21. The show’s hosts are zee Righteous Brothers - eez a tribute to zee Beatles’ Rubber Soul.”
I said nothing. I was numb.
“Tom? Bonjour, hello, Tom, are you there?” Marie said.
“Good. The guests are Paul Revere, Bobby Fuller and Nancy Sinatra. I hear sheez bringing her walking boots.”
The night of the show, we piled into a Checker cab. Though it had those pull-up seats on the floor that we loved to bounce on, Steve and I squeezed in between the girls. This was my first time over the Brooklyn Bridge. The New York skyline was stunning in the clear winter air, but my five senses were focused on the girls. I timed their breathing and joined its rhythm. Every bump in the road made me collide with Justine. I measured every one of her curves. It was remarkable how much in and out she had.
When we arrived at the TV studio the show was delayed. We waited on line on the sidewalk. The wind howled. It was cold. Steve and I were thoroughly eau de cologned with “Old Spice” aftershave. We both wore our sole winter outerwear – peacoats. 

We had on dress shirts with no sweaters because we couldn’t hide our best shirts from our best girls. We froze. The girls had on full-length fur coats, and they saw the shape we were in. They whispered to each other, turned to us, and said, “Are you cold?” We nodded yes, like trick horses in a carnival. They opened their coats and said, “Come in.”
Now you think we would’ve jumped right into their open arms. But it wasn’t like that. Nope, it didn’t happen that way at all. Steve and I made full eye contact. Memorializing the event came first. Only then did we move toward the two heartbreakers. We had to stretch it out. We knew it would never happen again.
During the show, the Righteous Brothers did a medley of songs from Rubber Soul. I had my eyes on Justine. She was singing along and her mouth formed that perfect “O.” My toughest decision all night was, Do I watch Marie, Justine or the singers? My neck and heart got a workout.
Later that month, the girls took us to two Ranger hockey games. Reggie Fleming came off the ice during warm-ups at each game to greet us. He gave Steve and me Ranger media guides that were not available to the public. Reggie rubbed our crew cuts. This news made us neighborhood gods; you couldn’t miss us, like we were eight months pregnant.
At the beginning of March, the girls were late getting back to New York. We kept vigil in front of the Laundromat each night, rain, hail, or snow. But no girls. Mid-month, we sat on their stoop to see if we could figure out who their other two roommates were and ask them what happened to Marie and Justine. The second night, a very pretty woman came up the stoop with a brown bag of groceries.
“Excuse me, Miss, do you know Marie or Justine?”
“Where are they?”
“Are you the two boys who carried their wash?”
“Yes. What happened to them?”
“They were reassigned and will no longer be in New York. They told us they felt very bad they could not say goodbye to you.”
Our hearts fell to our feet. The woman went into the lobby. We said nothing. It was over.
Steve and I walked up the street to the Laundromat and began throwing the football hard at each other. Good strong throws with mustard on them. The kind of passes that opened my chest up, rang my arm out and hurt my hands when I caught it. It felt good. Felt good to feel something, because I wasn’t sure the numbness would ever go away. But getting back to catch was going in the right direction and the ball flew sweetly. A tall young woman with a load of wash slid past Steve and me; we both gave her the eye and didn’t drop the ball. When she passed through the Laundromat door, Steve and I exchanged a sturdy look. It was getting warmer.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Stymie & Sparky Hanging on York Avenue in 1972

In the middle of the night staying over my grandmother's house, sleeping on the punishment couch in the junk room (my mother claimed the couch came from a prison yard sale) I'd wake in a panic hearing a dog screech in pain when Stymie with the pink nose cat, for no reason at all, attacked the sweet sleeping Sparky Lyle. 

They also had fun together, listening to the neighbors on the fourth floor argue in German through the open window facing the railroad's air shaft.

If I did that, my grandmother would be all over me, "Get the hell away from the window. Now!" 

Never understood that, I didn't know a word of German.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Cats Caught Necking, Again

Despite multiple warnings and signs everywhere in the park, Paisley and Taylor, the heart breaker and the make-out king, lovey dovey-ed in a no necking zone over the holiday weekend.

Their brazen indifference infuriated officials.

Stiffer penalties are under discussion:

No Boars' Head Turkey snacks for a week.

Weekly visit from "Gramps," the dog born old hating cats.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gang Way!

You know you’re old when you remember being stuck inside a discarded locked refrigerator.

In 1963, the thrown-out fridge with an intact door and functional handle was on the sidewalk in front of the Sullivan McNamara house on 83rd Street. We wanted to see how many kids could get in there and still lock it. After we took the metal trays out, four guys did fit inside when everyone pulled their stomachs in. You only played this game with close friends.

Everyone understood this was fun only if the door reopened quickly. We knew that a few years back on 80th Street, kids were locked in a fridge and when the guys on the outside tried to open it, the door handle broke off and the kids were trapped (Parents like to repeat horror stories). A Con Ed worker was watching the action from his hole in the street. He grabbed a sledge hammer and gave the side of the refrigerator a few good whacks. The door popped open, the kids got out but spent the rest of the day with the shakes.

Old refrigerators provided hours of pleasure, but new ones did too, or at least the boxes they came in did. The fridge box was huge, taller than any kid and made of sturdy heavy-duty cardboard. There were three games.

When the box was intact, a guy would get in and the guys on the outside would rattle the box and knock it over a few times, then each guy would take a turn getting in and slammed around. It was preferable not to go last, since you probably pissed someone off for playing too rough and they were looking to get even. This game would eventually knock out the bottom of the box.

When the bottom fell out, the box became a tank. We turned it on its side, and as many kids as possible would crawl in it and we’d begin to roll down the street, screaming, “Gang way! Gang way! Coming Through!” No one could see what was in front of them. Most of the time, people cleared the sidewalk and gave us room. We rolled over my brother Rory once, but he had on double winter clothes and hardly felt a thing. After a few trips up and down the block the tank would blow a gasket and tear.

We no longer had a cylinder, just a long wide strip of cardboard that was perfect for a sliding pond down the longer stoops in the neighborhood. The closest tall stoops were on the east side of York Avenue between 85th Street and 86th Street. We dragged the box over to one of those babies and played until the box blew its last breath.

If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at  Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble or other booksellers. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon and B&N. Thank you!  (130 five-star Amazon reviews out of 130 posted)